This is the kind of hire Georgia Tech needed to make. Geoff Collins, Atlanta-born, has been a head coach. (Albeit only for two years, but those count.) He has worked in the South, so he knows what recruiting down here entails. He has worked at Tech, which means he won’t arrive and then, three months in, say: “I never knew this is how things worked.”
That shock of arrival has hit many Tech coaches in many different sports. To reiterate: Tech is different. It cares about academics. Its curriculum isn’t broad-based. It’s the Georgia Institute of Technology, as opposed to a university that offers a bit of everything. It doesn’t solve dips in athletic performance by simply throwing more money at them. College football borders on fanaticism; Tech seeks to be circumspect in all things, which can be tough when you’ve lost four of five to Duke.
Said Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury, speaking Friday night at a long-delayed media briefing: “I needed someone who would embrace Georgia Tech.”
Collins spoke of his delayed flight from Philadelphia, which entailed a blown tire by the aircraft in front of them on the runway -- “One of those planes Snoopy would fly,” he said -- and then 40-mph headwinds. “I was like, ‘Let’s go’ ... Then I thought, you’ve been waiting 22 years to be the coach at Georgia Tech. We can wait a little longer.”
Under George O’Leary, Collins was a grad assistant. Under Chan Gailey, he was the recruiting coordinator who helped wrangle Tech’s best batch of signees – Joshua Nesbitt, Jonathan Dwyer, Derrick Morgan, Morgan Burnett – this century. He worked at Alabama as director of personnel under Nick Saban, the tree from which latter-day coaching branches grow. He did a stint at Central Florida as linebacker coach and recruiting coordinator under O’Leary again, then to Mississippi State as defensive coordinator under Dan Mullen, then to Florida as DC under Jim McElwain.
And then to Temple. He replaced Matt Rhule, who left for Baylor to try to clean up that mess. Collins went 7-6 in his maiden voyage. This year the Owls went 8-4 after starting 0-2. They beat Maryland, which nearly beat Ohio State and did beat Texas. They beat Cincinnati, which was ranked No. 20 in the Associated Press poll and would finish 10-2. They led UCF, which hasn’t lost to anybody since December 2016, 34-28 at halftime. They beat Houston and scored 59 points doing it. They’re bound for the Independence Bowl to face ... why, Duke. (Collins won’t be coaching, though. He’s a Tech guy now.)
Stansbury: “In the interview, he started with brand. ... He was really speaking my language. I knew he was a heck of a recruiter, and I wasn’t sure if I was being recruiter. But he did a heck of a job.”
Collins: “The first thing we think about is brand. ... Recruits choose brands, and our brand should be as strong as any in the country.”
We don’t need to dip back into the Ken Whisenhunt issue, except to say: A career NFL coach would have faced a learning curve at any major program, and Tech is trickier than most. With the exception of one season as an assistant at a North Carolina high school, Collins has been a college coach since he played his last season as a Western Carolina linebacker, which was in 1993. Apart from the past two years in Philadelphia, he has been based in the South since 1999.
And he is, not incidentally, an Atlantan. “I was born in DeKalb Memorial Hospital,” Collins said. “I grew up on Columbia Avenue in Decatur. I went to school in Conyers at Rockdale County.”
He concluding his remarks by holding up his notes. “This will be the last time I write anything in red,” he said. (Good line.)
Is he a Big Name on the order of Mike Leach? Or, heaven forbid, Lane Kiffin? No, he’s not. But he’s a solid coach who has learned his trade at places that take the sport seriously, and when he got the chance to hang out his own shingle, he went 15-10. There’s no Geoff Collins trademark -- he didn’t invent the offense he uses -- beyond, in his words, “an NFL-based offense and an NFL-based defense.”
Will that be enough for him to win big at Tech? Unknowable. Next season will be rough. Owing to Paul Johnson’s specifications, the offense will, duh, require a complete makeover, and it’s doubtful Collins will inherit much of what he’ll need. Tech’s recruiting class is ranked 51st nationally in 247 Sports’ composite index. The early signing date arrives Dec. 19, which leaves Collins less than two weeks just to hold those already committed.
That, however, would have been true no matter who Tech hired. Credit to Stansbury for not hiring some flavor of the month. (If Collins’ name was mentioned in any other search, I missed it.) Credit the AD for not trying to cram a Tech alum into a job that wasn’t a fit. Whisenhunt was someone for the Jackets to interview, but he wasn’t a guy to hire. Collins was a guy to hire.
And if he doesn’t come with the championship sizzle that Tony Elliott would have brought from Clemson … well, Tech isn’t Clemson. (Ask Dan Radakovich, who has looked at that part of life from both sides now.) And Elliott, who’s among the nation’s sharpest assistants, is 0-0 as a head coach. This will sound like faint praise, which isn’t how it’s meant, but here goes: All things considered, Geoff Collins is as good as the Jackets were going to do. And they’ve done it.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com