By MATTHEW STEVENS
Geoff Collins has many titles as Mississippi State’s new coaching hire.
He comes to Starkville as not only the co-defensive coordinator but will be responsible for coaching three new starters at linebacker.
However, it’s the unknown tag that’s responsible for him being brought to Mississippi State as the only new member of the football staff for the 2010 season – recruiter.
“He’s recruited in the Southeastern Conference before, he’s been recruiting coordinator at several places,” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said. “I just hear from everybody what a big-time recruiter he is. I mean, that’s one of the first things everybody says when I call them and talk about his background. He’s a sharp up and coming coach, high-energy, in your face guy, but he is one heck of a recruiter.”
Mullen certainly made an impression on Collins nearly 15 years ago after an old-school opposing coaches’ film swap when the Bulldogs head coach was a wide receivers coach at Columbia and Collins was at Fordham.
"I remember it distinctly and my wife actually brought it up that she remembers me coming home and talking about it,” Collins said. “I was a GA at Fordham and you do 12 film exchanges a year, you don't remember anybody. But I distinctly remember he and I hitting it off and making a connection and I was thinking 'he's going to be somebody.'"
As Mississippi State completes its biggest recruiting weekends before National Signing Day on Feb. 2, Collns’ first task was on campus trying to convince four-star linebacker prospect C.J. Johnson (Philadelphia, Miss.) to sign with the Bulldogs after he de-committed from MSU after Manny Diaz left for the University of Texas.
“The big thing is will this guy be able to coach the kids in our program but also recruit to see our vision,” Mississippi State defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. “That’s what we are – we’re salesman in this program to guys.”
Collins’ flight to Starkville for his first day of work was delayed but the 16-year veteran in the college-coaching business wasn’t going to let that stop him from his first staff meeting.
“My flight got delayed from Memphis (yesterday) and I was not about to sit in the airport for seven hours so I rented a car yesterday and drove down here immediately.” Collins said. “We've been in a room since 7 this morning and I'm well versed on the state of recruiting for the Bulldogs.”
Collins’ reputation includes stints as the recruiting coordinator at two Bowl Championship level schools (Alabama and Georgia Tech) and brought those pair of campuses two of the schools best signing classes in their history.
Collins’ 2008 recruiting class at Alabama laid out the plan for the Crimson Tide’s national championship after signing the consensus No. 1 ranked class according to all the services. Collins was responsible for putting together a class that included 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, 2010 All-American selection Julio Jones, 2010 All-Southeastern Conference selection Mark Barron and 2010 National Championship Defensive Most Valuable Player Marcell Dareus.
“That class was special,” Collins said. “When we all sat in the room at the end of the day, we all knew we had something immediately.”
In the previous year, Collins had the responsibility of bringing what would turn into the 18th-best team ranking for Georgia Tech, the school’s best class ever.
That Yellow Jackets group included the 2008 Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year Johnathan Dwyer, 2009 All-American selection Derrick Morgan, 2009 All-ACC selection Josh Nesbitt and 2008 All-American selection Morgan Burnett.
“I go to Georgia Tech and my first year as a graduate assistant, I would beg Coach O'Leary to please let me recruit,” Collins said. “He was like ‘no, you're too young, you don't recruit.’ The next year we had six primary states (and) he gave me the other 44 as a 'good luck kid' type of deal to shut me up and I signed five kids as a GA that couldn't even go on the road. I figured then I had a knack for it."
Collins’ talent for recruiting and his enthusiasm was grown at Division III Albright College in Reading, Pa., where quantity was the key to recruiting instead of quality.
“I go to Albright College as defensive coordinator (and) in Division III, you recruit year-round and the first year was 85 recruits we took - and I signed 42 of that recruiting class,” Collins said. “When people are talking about recruiting being so hard, I'm like ‘go recruit Division III.’ You sign 42 kids and the next year is probably the same.”
While Collins has strong recruiting ties to the two most plentiful states in the country for football talent (Georgia and Florida), he made it very clear this week that he doesn’t care where his specific area of concentration is and considered it unimportant.
"When I was at Georgia Tech, I was like ‘send me to Alaska and they had a great player - let's go get him.’ I think a lot of people say 'I need this specific recruiting area' as a crutch, I don't feel that way and I think most of the guys that have been successful as recruiters (feel) put me wherever and I'll get the kid.”
Collins, who said he has strong ties to Diaz, considered the athletic speed style of the Bulldogs defensive system as a major selling point to why he pursued the open position at MSU. The former FIU defensive coordinator can picture the kind of athlete he will have to bring to Starkville.
“One of the biggest things I believe it even more since being around Coach (Nick) Saban was you have to be able to see what the kid is going to be,” Collins said. “A lot of guys want the finished product."
A good example is Dontae' Hightower – the first scholarship offer was from (Alabama) and we saw the tape and realized he's going to be really good.”
The one thing Mullen and Wilson both stressed with reporters this past week is after losing a high quality defensive mind in Diaz, they got the number one replacement on their list.
“As we put everything in order I met with Chris, we talked about it, he was choice number-one,” Mullen said. “Very similar to how it was last year, I was very fortunate as we go identify what we think is a great fit at Mississippi State we’ve hit it and got choice number-one each of the last two years.”