Kevin DeCaesar and Shaun Bradley of the Temple Owls celebrate after the game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Lincoln Financial Field on October 20, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Temple Owls defeated the Cincinnati Bearcats 24-17 in overtime. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

How Temple players feel about facing Geoff Collins

Temple linebacker Shaun Bradley can’t dispute it. He’s excited to play Georgia Tech on Saturday and take on the team that hired away his head coach and five of his assistants.

“I think for me and the whole team, we’ve had this game circled on our calendars,” Bradley told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a phone interview this week.

That isn’t to say Bradley holds a grudge against Tech coach Geoff Collins, defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker (Bradley’s position coach at Temple) or anyone else. He’s just looking forward to competing in a setting he described as “all love.”

“Nothing too crazy because we don’t take any game more serious than another,” Bradley said. “It’s just a fun game. It’ll be a fun game to play in.”

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As Tech’s first-ever meeting with Temple approaches, three Temple veteran players interviewed by the AJC offered their perspectives on Collins, his departure and the prospect of playing the team that he (and five of his assistant coaches) left them for.

“It’ll be exciting,” said center Matt Hennessy, who said he was happy for Collins when he got the Tech job in December. “They’re pretty much like family. It’ll be kind of fun to compete with them.”

“I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think about that or that it’s not driving me a little bit,” said defensive tackle Daniel Archibong, a junior in his third season as a starter. “It definitely is. Getting to play your old coach is definitely something that I look forward to, but it’s still business as usual.”

Archibong said he was looking forward to seeing Collins and the rest of the old Temple crew that joined Collins in heading to Atlanta, which included the five assistant coaches and 11 non-coaching staff. Archibong recognized the work that Collins did in building the Temple brand – “He definitely got our name out there, I would say that” – and how Collins and his staff developed him as a player. And he said he understood why Collins left.

That said, Archibong said he was disappointed in how Collins left, without an official team meeting to say goodbye. Archibong said that Collins met with a team leadership council and then stopped in to position group meetings. He said his feelings then were “almost betrayal.”

Archibong spoke of Saturday’s game in the starkest terms of the three.

“Obviously, he wants to prove that he made the right choice, and we want to prove that he made the wrong choice,” Archibong said. “There’ll definitely be some tension, but after the game, it’ll be nice to see friends and people we used to be around every single day.”

Bradley, a senior in his third season starting at linebacker, described Collins’ two-year tenure in a way that would sound familiar to Tech players and fans.

“It was fun,” he said. “He had a lot of energy, a lot of juice, a lot of swag and stuff like that. He helped me build my career, as well. Definitely really, really good coach.”

Bradley described the brotherhood that Collins helped create through different means such as the themed offseason workouts that Collins brought with him to Tech. He credited Thacker for pushing him when he wanted to give up, helping him become a defender on the watch lists for two national awards for top defensive player in the country.

Bradley suspected younger players actually recruited by Collins to Temple might bear more of a grudge on Saturday. Bradley himself looked forward to talking good-natured trash with his former coach.

“A little bit here and there,” he said. “Of course, that’s who I am as a player. I’m ready to talk a little trash, but it’s all love in the end.”

As Thacker spoke this week with fondness for Bradley and other linebackers that he coached, Bradley did likewise. The two continue to communicate on occasion.

“I’m definitely going to have some good words to say to coach Thacker after the game, him more than anybody,” Bradley said.

Hennessy, a center, spoke with similar fondness for Tech tight ends coach Chris Wiesehan, who was Hennessy’s offensive-line coach, extolling his effort and care for his players. With Wiesehan’s help, Hennessy, a junior, has started since he was a redshirt freshman.

“He was awesome,” Hennessy said. “I mean, I’m as close with him as anybody on the planet.”

Like Archibong, Hennessy said that Collins brought value to Temple with his branding, which helped bring a national spotlight to the Owls. And, like Bradley, Hennessy appreciated Collins’ lighter approach.

“The way he encouraged players to be themselves, to be individuals and to have fun playing the game,” Hennessy said. “It’s definitely something he taught, something I learned from him, just to go have fun out there.”

Things have changed with Collins’ replacement, Rod Carey. As Bradley put it, Carey is “more laid-back and about business.” The “Money Down” signs have stopped waving. Cameras capturing images and video for social-media posts are no longer a constant.

“The biggest thing is a lot less social media,” Archibong said. “You laugh about it, I’m serious.”

“Pretty much that stuff, as soon as coach Collins left, a lot of the social-media stuff died down,” Hennessy said. “We had those specialty winter workouts, those were gone. We’re just down there in the weight room grinding.”

Hennessy in particular was hesitant to judge one coach against the other.

“It’s tough to talk about it, because I really appreciate both ways of doing things,” Hennessy said. “It’s just a little different.”

Remarkably, Archibong, Bradley and Hennessy are on their third head coach in a span of four seasons, four if you were to count Manny Diaz, who was the original replacement for Collins but left after less than four weeks to return to Miami, where he succeeded Mark Richt. Collins replaced Matt Rhule, who left Temple for Baylor.

Collins’ departure “kind of messed us up a little bit, but it’s a business, and we understood it and we stuck together,” Bradley said. “It wasn’t bad for us as a team. We just had to stick together.”

As the Owls are a victim of their own success, having been used as a ladder for coaches trying to climb higher, perhaps Collins will be also Saturday, competing against players he developed who are united in a culture he helped create.

Said Bradley, “We definitely are going to try to bring it on Saturday as best we can.”

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