A couple of weeks ago, at hopefully what will later be determined to be the low point of a long and fruitful (well, maybe just fruitful) career as Temple football head coach, Geoff Collins sat down with The Inquirer’s Marc Narducci and gave mostly guarded answers about his first season.
We’ll call those the “plugged” answers—as in those stock answers you’d expect most head coaches to say.
Today, with the benefit of hindsight, we’ll add some answers Collins MIGHT say if he was being unguarded or, in another word, unplugged. Our words mind you, but the words we guess Collins might be thinking now.
What has been the most pleasant surprise and biggest disappointment to this point?
REAL ANSWER: “The pleasant surprise has been the players. How they work every day, how they have a great attitude every day, how they are physical and tough every day in practice. They are very coachable and want to be great. That has been the biggest pleasant surprise. After coaching in the SEC the last six years, you don’t always get that, but these kids want to be great, they want to be coached and they are fun to be around. The biggest disappointment is just some of the young mistakes we have made. Three of the games in particular (against Houston, UConn and Army) were one-score games and a lot of those were things that were one or two plays away and that happened because of young mistakes. That has been one of the things that has been tough to deal with. The nice thing is that once they get the experience and they get it corrected, you don’t see it repeated. So you haven’t seen a rash of the same mistakes. A lot of times it is a new experience and a new thing that goes wrong with young players and that happens. But just the resiliency and coachability has been fun to be around.”
COLLINS UNPLUGGED: The pleasant surprise remains the same, but the biggest disappointment has been the fact that we tried to reinvent the wheel when they did just fine under their system the last two years. I told Mack Brown in the ESPN game prep for Cincinnati that we were going to go back to TEMPLE TUFF football—run the ball at the goal line behind the best fullback in the country—and you can see what happened. We got away from that in losses to UConn and Army. That’s Temple football and it’s got to be Temple football going forward: Run Rock and Hood behind Sharga (and Nitro next year), then have Frankie Juice make explosive downfield plays in the passing game by faking to those guys when the linebackers and the safeties cheat up to stop the run. It’s not the kind of ball Dave likes, but he’s going to have to get used to it. If I have to put my foot down, I will.
Depth has been an issue due to so many injuries, especially recently. Has that been eye-opening for you?
RA: “It has been tough and the thing I talked about to the team this morning (on Monday), one of the positions of strength both in leadership and depth and the ability to rotate guys through in our above- the-line system has been in our defensive line. We have played eight, nine and 10 and sometimes 11 defensive linemen. And there really hasn’t been a drop-off. The leadership from Jacob Martin, Jullian Taylor, Sharif Finch, has been outstanding and I would even include Greg Webb in that leadership piece. We are using that as a model for all the other positions moving forward. To build that kind of depth and that kind of leadership throughout the organization at every single position.”
CU: Not playing Greg Webb—who started in the Navy championship game last year—against Notre Dame and Villanova was a big mistake. We probably would not have been gouged on those 17 running plays that gained like 8,000 yards had we had vets like Webb and FBL in there instead of the new guys. We’ve also got to get Karamo Dioubate started in the right direction and I’ve made a mental note to play him some more going forward. KD’s natural position is DE and shifting him over there will make him a Mayhem star next year.
The quarterback situation is probably something you didn’t envision and I would think you would have wanted to have had it settled well before the opening game instead of deciding the week of the opener at Notre Dame. How tough was that?
RA: “When you lose a kid who started so many games and thrown so many passes and had first-team reps for four years (the way Phillip Walker did), the transition trying to find that next guy, a first time as a head coach, has been challenging. The thing that makes it challenging is they have been good. It would be one story if they weren’t good, then it would be a different scenario. We have had some quarterbacks that have played really well and good enough that the separation has been tough throughout. Logan (Marchi) has played really well in some really good stretches. And I was proud of Frank (Nutile) who came in and played as well as he did last week in his first college start (with Marchi injured). It’s been a good issue to have that they are both good and competitive.”
CU: I’m kicking myself now but not going to Frankie Juice after Logan had that pass batted down against Villanova. That should have been an Epiphany moment for me but I kind of let Dave (Patenaude) talk me out of it because he had such a good relationship with Logan due to recruiting him for Coastal (Carolina). No doubt in my mind had Frankie played after Nova, his feet would have been wet enough to maybe beat Houston and definitely beat UConn and Army. From now on, we’re throwing out this metrics stuff at practice and playing the guy who plays best in real games and that’s Frankie Juice currently.
You talked earlier that in your previous coaching experiences for the most part, you only had to watch the defensive side of the ball. Now you have had to be in charge of the entire team. As a first-year coach has this been overwhelming task for you, and how has it been adjusting to being a head coach for the first time?
RA: “It has been exciting. I think I have improved every single week. I have been self-critical at every stage. I think at first you have to be critical of yourself before you can be critical of others. At Notre Dame (a 49-16 loss), I was still in that fighter-pilot mindset that I have been in for the last six years as a coordinator in the SEC and learned very quickly, I couldn’t do that. You see me at practice and I am a wild man out there and provide the energy and drive and I have been doing that more and more each week, so those kinds of things have been good. I found myself earlier in the season staying on the defensive headsets most of the game. The defensive staff has done a great job with in-game adjustments, and I now when the defense is on the bench, I have been able to be on the offensive headset the whole time, put my two cents in, tell them when we are going to go for it, when we need to run it, and when we need to take a shot, so that has been exciting for me. So more and more throughout the season since the South Florida game (a 43-7 loss on Sept. 21) we have done an elite eight, which are eight plays I give to the offensive staff. The crazy formations we started doing, I know as a defensive guy those are difficult to prepare for, so I give them a formation and two to three plays.”
CU: As a head coach, you’ve got to be aware of everything and, for the first few games, I wasn’t that tuned into things. Pat Kraft strongly suggested that Dave go to the booth after his sideline demeanor against USF and that’s turned into a positive for us, not just in PR, but in productivity.
These last four games whether you become bowl eligible or not become critical when you are talking about next year. How critical is it?
RA: “We are probably four plays away from having a completely different record. We are playing a lot of young players at a lot of key positions. We have a lot of guys who will be coming back after this season so I think the future is really, really bright, but out of respect for our old guys, we are going to do it the right way for these old guys to finish out strong the final four games.”
CU: We’re not playing as many young players as I’ve been saying all year. We’re going to be losing a lot more guys from this year’s team for next year than we did last year’s championship team for this year. So I’ve got my work cut out for me next year in terms of getting JUCO offensive linemen, wide receivers and defensive backs–not mention replacing impact ends like Martin and Finch. A lot of our fans feel like we’re playing a completely new team but we’re not. Matt (Rhule) left me with a lot of great championship-level players and we’re going to lose a lot of those guys after, hopefully, the bowl game.
Friday: Our Annual Tribute To The Seniors