It might be too drastic to say he was losing the team, but Geoff Collins reached a critical point last year in his first season as Temple football coach.

The Owls fell to 3-5 after the kind of defeat that can soil a season. Army, predominantly a running team, scored on a 16-yard TD pass with one second left in regulation to send the game to overtime. With a chance to send the game to a second extra period, Temple missed a 27-yard field goal.

"We were devastated in the locker room after that game," recalled quarterback Frank Nutile, now a graduate student, who made his first college start that game.

Imagine how the coach felt.

Geoff Collins, center, talks to his team during a practice.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Geoff Collins, center, talks to his team during a practice.

Temple needed to go 3-1 in its final four games just to be bowl-eligible. One game was against favored Navy and another was against Central Florida, which would finish 13-0.

At that point, Collins decided to cash all his chips. He had been hired Dec. 14, 2016, so last season was a whirlwind of assembling a staff and getting to know not only his players but also the personnel in the American Athletic Conference. The Owls had a bye week after the Army game, and Collins decided to meet with a number of key non-seniors. He told them the team needed more from them, and he relayed the story of the 2013 Mississippi State team, for which he was the defensive coordinator. That team had stunning parallels to Temple's 2017 squad. Mississippi State was 4-6 and needed to win its final two to become bowl-eligible. The Bulldogs won those two games and then beat Rice, 44-7, to win the Liberty Bowl and finish 7-6.

"The turning point in that Mississippi State season is young guys like Dak Prescott and Benardrick McKinney really elevated their leadership," Collins said recently, recalling two players who were sophomores that season. "I told our guys of that story and how the younger guys helped the seniors, which was a small senior class, just like ours was."

Collins later took things to another level.

"He told us it was the point of time where we had to start taking over the team and help the seniors finish strong," current junior linebacker Shaun Bradley recalled.

The non-seniors, led by Bradley and Nutile, gave him more, and Temple went 3-1 to become bowl-eligible and then earned a convincing 28-3 win over Florida International in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.

Now, as he enters his second season, Collins moves around with more noticeable confidence. Not that this 47-year-old football lifer ever lacked a belief in his ability, but that was his first season as a head coach on any level and there was a learning curve.

"You think you know exactly what to do and how to do it, but the things that come across a head coach's desk are different things than [those that] come across an SEC defensive coordinator's desk," said Collins, who was a defensive coordinator in the SEC the previous seven years before coming to Temple, including the last two at the University of Florida.

There was a matter of earning trust of the players, and vice versa.

"I think we are all bought in now and he has opened himself to us and we have opened ourselves to him over the last year," said redshirt junior guard Jovahn Fair, who has made 17 starts. "Some people were a little timid at first with a new guy."

Collins understood that there would be a feeling-out process, on both sides.

"Everybody had to prove themselves, and I did, too, and all the coaches, as well," he said.

Collins came to Temple with the reputation of a defensive mastermind, but what wasn't as publicized was how much he works at interpersonal relationships.

More than anything, he needed time, and this offseason, he cemented the relationships. In May, Collins and eight Temple players took a goodwill football trip to Japan, where among other activities, they conducted football clinics. Collins also has taken his team this summer to an Eagles preseason game and a Phillies game, All these off-field activities have gotten Collins closer to his players.

Temple coach Geoff Collins at the Phillies game with his wife, Jennifer, and daughter, Astrid.
Marc Narducci / Staff
Temple coach Geoff Collins at the Phillies game with his wife, Jennifer, and daughter, Astrid.

His practices aren't the easiest of endeavors, and Collins doesn't let his foot off the gas when monitoring players' academics.

At this point, he has won over the players with his football acumen and the way he cares about them. This tough-as-nails coach often gets emotional when talking about his team. And even though Collins didn't recruit many of them, they have truly become his players.

"I love these guys unconditionally," he said, choking up slightly. "It is a blessing to work with them every day, and I don't know if there is a day I don't tell them I love them."