When it first occurred to Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker that he would be returning to Philadelphia to play the same Temple players that he had coached for the past two seasons, his response was about what you’d expect.
“If I had a choice, I wouldn’t choose to schedule the place where we just left where we have a bunch of deeply invested relationships,” Thacker said Tuesday.
That’s the lot that awaits Thacker, coach Geoff Collins and four other members of the coaching staff, along with no less than 11 additional members of the staff, when the Yellow Jackets will play Saturday at Temple in the first-ever meeting between the two teams.
Collins and his staff coached and/or recruited nearly every player on the Temple roster. Reunions of this sort are not the norm. Temple is the only team this season at the college level that will face its former head coach from a season ago, according to a note compiled by Temple. Former Tech coach Paul Johnson never played Navy, the team he coached before coming to Tech, and didn’t face Georgia Southern (his first head coaching job) until 2014, 13 years after he had left Statesboro.
Speaking Tuesday at his weekly news conference, Collins spoke of the fondness that he has for the Temple players.
“I cheer for them, I root for them, I want to see them have success,” Collins said. “Obviously, we have to compete against them on Saturday, but that doesn’t change the strong feelings that I have for those guys individually, but it’s time to compete, and we will do that.”
Ironically, the game was contracted in July 2017, just at the start of Collins’ tenure at Temple. (The return game is scheduled for Bobby Dodd Stadium in September 2025.)
Collins tried to downplay the significance of his returning to Temple, saying that the game is not Temple vs. Geoff Collins.
“That is not what this is,” he said. “This is Georgia Tech’s football program vs. the Temple University football program.”
Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude, who came to Tech from Temple with Collins, said that Collins hasn’t brought up Temple this week.
“It’s all about, this is the next opportunity, let’s be 1-0 this week, let’s get this job done. This is how we have to go about doing the job,” Patenaude said.
Patenaude has done similarly. He said that he brought up Temple in the first 30 seconds of an offensive meeting, introducing the Owls’ defensive scheme and its strengths. It doesn’t change the unusual circumstances for him, though. He said that he keeps track of Temple’s games and exchanges text messages with former players.
“I think you reflect back on it maybe after the game and say, ‘Hey, that was interesting’ because I don’t know how many times this has ever really been done,” Patenaude said. “But our whole focus is getting our guys ready to play.”
Thacker spoke with fondness for the linebackers he coached. He was clearly proud of starters Chapelle Russell, Sam Franklin and Shaun Bradley, who have all earned the privilege of wearing single-digit jerseys by vote of their teammates, as has backup Isaiah Graham-Mobley.
“All of those guys, I’ve been stuck in a room with for two straight years, and we’ve invested a bunch of time together,” Thacker said. “I think in a year or two, all four of those guys are going to have a chance to go play in the NFL. When they do, I can’t wait to call them and tell them I love them and how proud of them (I am) and I know, I’m convicted that I’ll get those same responses: ‘I love you, Coach, and I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.’”
But for now, his objective is to ruin their Saturday. Collins acknowledged that, knowing Temple’s roster so well, “we’re trying to scheme some things up. But it’s still about us and execution.”
Afterwards, the tension can dissipate.
“I’m going to hug their necks and tell them I’m proud of them, no matter the result for us or for them,” Thacker said. “I’m going to tell them I love them and hug their neck and then we can move forward and I can have a normal conversation with them now that we’re outside of a competitive situation.”
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