While he was coaching the Temple football team the past two seasons, Geoff Collins never hesitated to show his emotions.
Collins grew attached to his players. Now that he is coaching Georgia Tech, he acknowledges that the 3:30 p.m. Saturday matchup against his former team at Lincoln Financial Field isn’t just another game on the schedule.
Far from it.
“I never hid how much I loved those guys that I was blessed to coach,” Collins said in a phone interview.
While many Temple players said this week that facing their former coach isn’t that big of a deal, the former coach claimed otherwise.
“When I see them, there will be strong emotions,” Collins said.
Temple was the first head-coaching job for Collins, who had been the defensive coordinator at Florida the previous two seasons. Skeptics will say that he used the Temple job simply as a springboard to a Power Five job, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t get attached to his players, the school, and the city.
A native of Conyers, Ga., about 40 minutes from Georgia Tech’s Atlanta campus, the 48-year-old Collins wasn’t looking for just any Power Five job to skip town.
According to multiple sources, Collins was asked to interview for at least two Power Five jobs and he said no. Asked about this, he politely declined comment, but it took a job near home for him to leave Temple.
“It was not without a heavy heart that I left, but to come back home to Atlanta has been special,” Collins said.
It hasn’t been easy for Collins at Tech, where the football gods again haven’t been kind.
His first Temple game was at Notre Dame. Final score: Notre Dame 49, Temple 16.
His first game for Georgia Tech was at defending national champion Clemson. Final score: Clemson 52, Georgia Tech 14.
“Our guys played hard,” Collins said, always looking for a chance to praise his players.
At Tech, Collins replaced Paul Johnson, who had resigned after 11 seasons. Johnson was known for running the triple option. Now with new offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude, who held the same position under Collins at Temple, Georgia Tech is running a spread formation, although the passing game is a major work in progress.
The Yellow Jackets (1-2) have attempted just 52 passes. By comparison, Temple quarterback Anthony Russo threw 51 in Saturday’s 38-22 loss at Buffalo that dropped the Owls to 2-1.
Collins has had to revamp his entire roster.
“We had 13 running backs and no tight ends when I got here,” he said. “Our offensive linemen for 11 years played in a four-point stance and were used to cut blocking. We have had to be creative with position flexibility.”
By all accounts, Collins has already recruited well and will certainly reap the benefit in the future. The present could be murkier.
Georgia Tech was picked to finish in seventh place (last) in the Coastal Division in the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason media poll.
Collins knew things would be difficult, and that was demonstrated Sept. 14 when Georgia Tech suffered a 27-24 overtime home loss against The Citadel, a Football Championship Subdivision school.
The Yellow Jackets opened as a 9.5-point underdog to Temple.
Temple went 7-6 and 8-5 in his two seasons, but Collins is one of only three coaches in school history to win a bowl game. The Owls are 3-5 all-time in bowls, and his 2017 team won the Gasparilla Bowl.
He took over a good program left by Matt Rhule and kept the Owls competitive, finishing second in the American Athletic Conference East Division last season, behind Central Florida.
Collins said when Temple beat then-No. 21 Maryland, 20-17, on Sept. 14, he was pulling hard for the Owls. He will be rooting feverishly for the Owls every other week, but not on Saturday, of course.