By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Spring football is still two weeks off, but Geoff Collins is already bragging about his new team.
Last week, after a very early team workout, Mississippi State’s new linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator did what he does every day.
He gave some old colleagues a ring.
“After this morning’s workout I’ll call all of them and say, ‘This is what we did this morning,’ and brag little bit,” Collins said. “Because a lot of it is things I’ve never even heard of, and I’ve been at some pretty good places and been around some really good strength coaches.”
The work ethic he’s seen is just another piece of evidence for Collins that he’s in the right place. Just as important, he’s on the same page philosophically as his new co-workers.
“We have a nice dynamic in the room,” he said.
Collins was hired after one season as defensive coordinator at Florida International, where he took over one of the nation’s worst defenses and made it a formidable unit. FIU ranked 61st in total defense, including 32nd against the pass last season, and the Panthers went from three wins to seven, including a bowl victory.
Collins, who’s also worked at Central Florida, Alabama and Georgia Tech, isn’t shy about stating his role in the turnaround.
“Imagine the worst situation you can imagine in college football defensively, and that was the situation I walked into,” he said. “We just came in there (as a) defensive staff and turned it completely around.”
MSU coach Dan Mullen took notice of Collins when Manny Diaz left Starkville after one year as defensive coordinator for the same post at Texas. Defensive line coach Chris Wilson was promoted to lead the defense, and Collins got the call to fill the vacancy.
Collins has known Diaz for years and said their defensive philosophies are very similar. Collins watched a lot of Oklahoma tape when Wilson was defensive ends coach there.
More than just being absorbed into the coaching staff, Collins is bringing his own ideas to the table.
“You’re looking at some of coach (Nick) Saban’s philosophies as far as some of his max principles in coverage,” Wilson said. “Those are things that when you look at you say, hey, those are unique to what we’re doing here. It always helps us to be able to adjust and add on to what we’re doing here.”
So it’s been an easy transition for Collins, who said he was offered a defensive coordinator’s position by an SEC school the same day MSU offered him its job. He wouldn’t say which school it was, but at the time the only DC opening was at Vanderbilt.
“I just thought it was something special to be a part of,” Collins said. “Following Mullen’s career, having such respect for him, it was nice to get in here and be a part of what’s going on.”
Collins’ top priority, of course, is figuring out the linebacker situation.
All three starters from 2010 are gone, including All-SEC picks Chris White and K.J. Wright. Only one linebacker signed with State this year, Benardrick McKinney, and he’s going the junior college route.
So MSU will have eight linebackers coming back, six of whom played in eight or more games last season and combined to make 94 tackles. Two are redshirt freshmen, Ferlando Bohanna and Christian Holmes.
“I just told the guys, the linebackers here, all three of my linebackers last year at FIU made all-conference, all three of my linebackers at UCF the year before made all-conference,” Collins said. “So that’s my goal.”
While he hasn’t got to coach them yet, Collins is building a strong rapport with his new group.
“I text them every day, talk to them every day, and just excited about getting to know them, and finding out the buttons to push, things to motivate them a little bit. Because every kid is different.”
It’s a better starting point than what Collins had at FIU, and he said the returning linebackers are ready to prove themselves.
“They hear everything about K.J. leaving and Chris leaving and how there’s going to be a drop-off,” Collins said. “So positively, they have a chip on their shoulder. It’s good. They have something to prove, and hopefully I’ll be able to help them prove it.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571
Geoff Collins file
– 2010: FIU, defensive coordinator, linebackers
– 2008-09: Central Florida, linebackers, recruiting coordinator
– 2007: Alabama, director of player personnel
– 2006: Georgia Tech, recruiting
– 2002-05: Western Carolina, defensive coordinator, defensive backs
– 1999-2001: Georgia Tech, graduate assistant
– 1997-98: Albright College, defensive coordinator, linebackers, secondary
– 1996: Fordham, outside linebackers
– 1995: Franklin (N.C.) High School, assistant