He wanted to lead a program. But not just any program; the right program.
Collins was a little-known coach when Dan Mullen hired him as Mississippi State defensive coordinator in 2011. His résumé included two one-year Power Five stops (Georgia Tech, 2006; Alabama, 2007) but neither were full-time coaching positions. He helped the Bulldogs win 32 games over a four-year stretch (2011-14), which at the time was their third-highest four-year total in program history.
Collins jumped to Florida in 2015 and led one the best units in the country — ranking in the top 10 nationally in both yards and points per game both seasons. The 45-year-old was now one of the most sought-after coordinators in America. And it would take the perfect opportunity to lure him away from Gainesville.
"Beng an SEC defensive coordinator for so long, every year you get approached for different jobs to be a head coach," he said via phone this week.
What made the Temple job different?
"Me and [then-Temple head coach] Matt Rhule have know each other for 20-plus years . . . he's one of my best friends in the world. So I knew a lot of things that were going on here for the last 10 years — a lot of the philosophies and a lot of the culture that were already in existence . . . I knew the things that had been in place here. And I knew it was going to be a seamless transition."
Now coaching above the Mason-Dixon Line for the first time since a two-year stint as defensive coordinator at Albright College in Pennsylvania, Collins is taking over an Owls' program coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons. While they lost three players to the NFL — Haason Reddick, Dion Dawkins and Nate Hairston — along with all-conference performers Jahad Thomas, Praise Martin-Oguike and others, the first-time head coach sees something unique in Philadelphia.
"We came in here and the kids have the been amazing. Our coaching staff has really bonded with these players," he added. "There's a sign in every single coach's room and their offices that says 'People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.' And that was a big thing for us to build that trust early."
The product of that caring and trust will be on display when Temple visits Notre Dame this weekend in the regular-season opener for both teams.