No wholesale changes, just more swag and edge coming for Florida’s defense under Geoff Collins

By Adam Silverstein
January 9, 2015

More Florida Gators assistant features: Randy Shannon | Terrell Williams | Tim Skipper

There was enough wrong with – and enough changes coming to – the Florida Gators that the last thing the program needed was to mess with the one thing that has been a bright spot over the last four years, it’s defense.

So when head coach Jim McElwain was tasked with replacing the combined defensive leadership of Will Muschamp and D.J. Durkin, he decided not to rock the boat.

Enter 2014 Broyles Award nominee and former Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, whose experience under Nick Saban (at Alabama) and veterans George O’Leary (at UCF) and John L. Smith (at Louisville) made him a no-brainer hire for McElwain.

“They’ve done a really good job. Coach Muschamp and I know each other. D.J. and I know each other. I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done on defense the last four years. The talent that has been assembled here is legitimate SEC talent,” he said on Thursday. “It’s not a wholesale change. Let’s just work on finding the things we can get better at and take us to the next level. … Finding that edge and going out and getting it done so we can improve upon where we are right now.”

Collins plans to keep it simple, employing similar principles, concepts and techniques that were taught by Muschamp. There may be some terminology tweaks and a couple schemes added to the playbook, but it will be business as usual for the most part with Florida’s defense.


“The big thing is play really hard, be relentless, create tackles for loss, create mayhem, create turnovers and sacks. I think the track record has shown that we’ve been able to do that [at my previous stops]. Just getting the kids to buy into what we’re doing, have fun, fly around, energy and juice and excitement,” explained Collins.

“We had our team meeting the other night and then we had a defensive unit meeting. The things we were talking about, the kids were getting excited, getting juiced up. The thing that was interesting for me was I was able to be out there for some of the bowl practices. It was like a kid on Christmas Day. You get all these fancy new toys to play with but then they don’t let you play with them. Now I’m just excited to be around the guys. They got a good look in their eye. And obviously they’re talented and hungry to have some success.”

Collins will keep the Buck linebacker position as an important part of the Gators’ defense, though it may have a new name. He also believes it is important to have a versatile Sam linebacker, one who can hit in the run game but drop into coverage like a nickel, a skill set Florida has not had to an elite level since Jelani Jenkins left for the NFL.

His main task for the Gators will be focusing on situational awareness. Florida has been fine in the red zone but struggled mightily on third downs – especially on those with 15 or more yards to gain – last season. That is something that must improve.

“The kids here are looking for an edge. They’re hungry for that. When we illustrated the situational defense [in our meeting] – red zone, third down, sacks – that we can get an edge and create an advantage, they were really excited about that,” Collins noted.

There is already some positive momentum mounting for the defense. A pair of junior starters – defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard and middle linebacker Antonio Morrison – announced they will return for the 2015 season. Bullard was the Gators’ most improved defender in 2014, while Morrison ended up as Florida’s tackle leader for the second-straight season and the first UF player to eclipse 100 tackles in a single season since Ahmad Black in 2010. In regards to Bullard, Collins appreciates his talent but was even more enthused about his leadership.

“As I’m meeting with the defensive players, one of the first questions I asked them are who are the leaders, who are the guys by effort or by words or by actions are the ones who get everybody going,” he recalled. “Almost to a man, [Bullard’s] name comes up. Obviously he’s a great player, obviously very versatile in what he was able to do defensively, but his leadership ability, him coming back is huge.”

Collins has a lot to be excited about. He’s thrilled to have Randy Shannon aboard as a co-coordinator and enthused about being at Florida after seemingly being thrown under the bus by Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen last season. He did not respond directly to Mullen’s “lateral move” comment but said he’s “excited to be a Florida Gator” and it “doesn’t get better” than coaching that program.

There is plenty left on Collins’s plate. First up, of course, is recruiting. Defensive schemes and assignments need to be worked out as well, but he also wants to make sure the Gators are able to take ownership of his defense, just like the Bulldogs did over the last few seasons.

Mississippi State’s “psycho” defense under Collins gained plenty of national attention, and he plans to have Florida’s unnamed unit do the exact same thing.

“It’s just branding,” Collins said of the “psycho” tag. “It’s something that [the players] had fun with. There’s some things we’ve talked about with defensive players here. Won’t go into too much detail about them. I’m sure it’ll start leaking out as we go. … When we take the field, that’s a legitimate SEC defense that you’re going to have to play against,” he said.

“It’ll be re-branded to fit this place and these kids and these kids’ personalities. I’m big on not being a swag stealer. I want to create our own energy, create our own branding. It’s something the kids kind of buy in organically and naturally. Not to use too many big words, but that’s what we’re all about. It always works better when it [brands itself], I think. … Whatever their swag is naturally, build upon that and take it to an even higher level.”

Natural swag has not been a problem for Gators defenses of the past. Should Collins be able to keep the boat stable and ensure the players have bought in, Florida will likely be able to continue rolling on as a dominant machine on the defensive end in 2015.

More Florida Gators assistant features: Randy Shannon | Terrell Williams

25 Comments

  1. Dave Massey says:

    Mullen has one above average year, still lost to the top three ranked teams they played, which still leaves him at about 25% against ranked teams (even though that is irrelevant if you ask some people) and suddenly he thinks he has an elite program, now that’s funny. (Yeah, I went there MJ). Lateral move my butt, even if Coach Collins won’t say it.

    Adam, you said in a previous post that Auburn paid it’s assistants better than Florida, even if that is not word for word. How does Florida’s pay plan with these current assistant hires compare to Auburn, other top SEC programs, and other top programs in the nation? I would hate to see these guys hired away because somebody paid them better when Florida can afford to pay top assistants top dollar.

    Also, would it be safe to assume that Florida’s WR coach to be hired is probably still with a team, NFL or college, that is still playing?

    • A lot of schools pay their assistants better than Florida. BUT with this staff, I have a feeling the numbers we see are going to be much higher than they’ve been in recent years.

    • That is safe to assume.

    • Ken (CA) says:

      That was my assumption a few posts ago 🙂

    • Michael Jones says:

      You Mullen bashers talk out of both sides of your mouth. Either it’s not that great of a program at Miss St, in which case ALL of Mullen’s years were “above average” because he did less with more (you Mullen bashers don’t like the thought of that and insist that all things are equal between the programs), OOOOOORRRRRR, as you claim when discrediting Mullen’s achievements, the Miss St program is on equal footing with the UF’s and the Bama’s of this world in which case Collins’ job change WAS a lateral move. It’s one or the other. You can’t have it both ways depending on what’s convenient to your position at the time. It’s called intellectually honesty. You should try it sometime.

      Miss St loves him a lot more than some of you do, which speaks volumes.

      He was the right choice when Muschamp got hired but Foley, as it turns out, has a personal problem with him. Gee. . what a surprise. Big deal. Whatever. We’ve all moved and we’re all excited about McElwain’s hire. . .well, maybe you haven’t moved on, Dave, but I have. I’m very excited about McElwain, but I will respond to the ridiculous statement that Mullen “had 1 above average year.” Ask Miss St how they feel about that and Dan Mullen. Ask Miss St if they agree with your (and others on this website) assessment of Mullen’s coaching ability and performance so far.

      That said. . .. . GO McELWAIN!!! GO GATORS!!!!!

      • Dave Massey says:

        Dude, you are so easy to bait!!! Your are totally OCD and ADHD (yes, I capatilized those letters because they are supposed to be.) You need to get back on your Prozac and Adderall.

        It’s so obvious to us all based on your reply that you have moved, moved to Mullensville that is. The rest of us didn’t need to move on because we never wanted Mullen as coach.

        I would hope that Miss State loves him a lot more than Florida fans do because he is their coach and never will be Florida’s. They weren’t exactly in love with Mullen before this year and if you go read their comments they were screaming for his head. And they are not exactly enthralled this year either because they lost the Egg Bowl and lost to Alabama, then lost to GT in the first major bowl they have been to in a long time. There still be grumbling in Starkville.

        Miss State’s program has never been on equal footing with Florida’s. Their one and only SEC championship was in 1941 and their only division championship was in 1998. They are the Bulldogs but ring cowbells because a cow supposedly wandered onto the field like 60 years ago, talk about hicksville.

        The situation between Foley and Mullen is mutual dislike, Mullen has taken a bunch of swipes at Florida, so quit trying to make it out like it is all Foley.

        I don’t care if Miss St agrees with my assessment of Mullen’s ability or performance thus far but here it is. He has won less than 60% of his games in his six years there which means he wins less than six games for every four losses. That got Zook and Muschamp fired in four years at Florida. He has won less than 25% of games against ranked teams. He has won zero conference championships, zero division championships, zero major bowls, and made zero BCS bowl appearances. He did have a couple of wins in minor bowls, like whipping the crap out of Rice. Like I said, he had one above average year, this year, where he didn’t even win his division and played nobody out of conference, in fact an absolute joke of a non conference schedule, UT Martin, really. They also drew Kentucky and Vanderbilt from the East making their schedule look really ridiculous. Auburn, LSU, and T A&M weren’t that good this year, Arkansas is still up and coming. So they lost to the three best teams they played. That was in a year where the SEC West was clearly overrated. They were deep but no really good teams. See bowl results for SEC West teams. We’ll see how he does next year when they still play a joke of a schedule out of conference and substitute South Carolina for Vanderbilt. I think it would be absolutely hilarious if your other golden boy Driskell beats them, now that would be double irony. If Prescott decides to go pro I don’t think they will be anything but back to the middle of the pack especially since they are losing their best defensive player and best running back to early departure.

        Feel free to refute these facts as they are presented but do it with real facts not screaming like a little petulant child sitting on the floor in his dirty diaper screaming I’m right because I’m the loudest.

        The baffling thing to me is that I have to argue with someone who is supposedly a Florida fan that Miss St is not on par with Florida. Why else would Collins leave for the Gators if it was a lateral move? I think you must have rapped yourself in the head while ringing that cowbell.

        And quit modifying and adverb with an adverb.

  2. Michael Jones says:

    It’s really swell that everybody continues to pucker up and kiss Muschamp’s butt long after he’s headed out the door. Very classy. But let’s not kid ourselves. Our defense can get A LOT better.

    We had a really good defensive game against FSU. But we were also average plenty of times. And sometimes below average. And we won’t even talk about the Alabama game. Or when LSU basically ran it down our throats and there wasn’t a thing that we could do about it. Or not being able to stop South Carolina in overtime.

    So once this inexplicable and seemingly never-ending love-fest for Muschamp, the alleged “defensive genius” (bahaha!. . . not buying it), is over, I look forward to seeing a better everything, including a better defense.

    • Dave Massey says:

      I don’t really agree with you that “everybody continues to pucker up and kiss….”. The overwhelming majority of people wanted him to go simply because he didn’t win and made bad decisions, mostly offensively. I still believe Muschamp was a ‘good’ hire, but the ‘wrong’ hire. Unlike Zook, that was just a plain flat out FUP by Foley. I wouldn’t agree that the defense can get a LOT better, they were pretty damn good, but definitely can make improvements. Especially with the continual blown coverages on third and long. They did an outstanding job in the bowl game on third down getting off the field without the influence of Muschamp. Good to see Durkin do that, hope he does it continuously in the B1G especially against the lying cryer!

      We lost to FSU because of the offense, the defense was outstanding, 4 picks and 150 yds passing, can’t do much better than that. Give Miles credit for a good game plan, everybody knows the best way to neutralize a dominant defensive lineman is run right at him continuously which is what he did to Fowler. Not being able to stop South Carolina on one series in overtime after they had taken the momentum with two blown kicks is nitpicky. That loss is not on the defense, but it did define the Muschamp era.

      I would agree with you though on Muschamp being overrated as a defensive guru. The defense made a ton of mistakes this year, a lot of which can be attributed to poor or inadequate coaching. Go back and look at Texas’ defense the last couple years he was there and you will see that they were going backwards.

      The defense can get better, but everything hinges on dramatic improvements on the offense, not defense. After all, we have nothing to worry about on defense, we hired Mississippi’s coach to head the defense, LOL.

    • Marc says:

      I don’t really hear any of these guys saying that things are going to remain status quo on the defensive side, just that wholesale changes don’t necessarily have to be made as they do on the other side of the ball. I also think a lot of this “puckering up” is calculated on the new staff’s part so that we are not alienating/diminishing the really good players that remain from the Muschamp regime or recruits in the pipeline.

  3. Ken (CA) says:

    While it is still early, I think one of the best signs that this staff relates to the players (and likely will be phenomenal recruiters) is the fact that other than those leaving early for the NFL, there haven’t been mass transfer requests. Maybe they really like what they have heard so far.

  4. Ken (CA) says:

    I wonder if his “legitimate SEC talent” is kind of a subtle swat at MSU players how he had to coach them up a lot whereas UF has some major studs.

  5. Sgt. Friday says:

    Blah, Blah, Blah,…Why does anyone even listen to the blathering of coaches? They never tell the truth or say anything different. I would be willing to bet that you could take what ten coaches, or more, said and leave out their names, and no one would be able to match the actual coach to what they said. Especially at UF, you should have learned to not believe a word coming out of a coaches mouth, after the garbage we’ve heard them say the past few years. Every player is great and no one is struggling, we are very good, etc. Muschamp was right about one thing; I think Parcells first said it: “You are what your record says you are.” We’ll find out how good these coaches are in the Fall. Until then it’s just the talking season.

    • Ken (CA) says:

      you must be a wunderkind SF to have such incredible insight! I would bet you that you list 10 coaches and give 10 speeches, one from each coach I could get a minimum of 50% and that is probably true of most folks here. ESPECIALLY at UF. you never have anything good to say unless it is to tell me how stupid I am because whether I agree or disagree with a law, as long as it is the law, I believe players should follow it (as well as the rest of us). There are ways to dissent with laws we don’t agree with aside from breaking them, but damn, is there ever a positive thing you have posted here? EVER? you seldom even discuss the topic of the post, you often attack those that respond to it due to your ideology, adding little to the conversation. Maybe you should learn from the original and “Just the facts” and go with that.

      It would make for a far more effective conversation tool and give a baseline to discuss.

      • Sgt. Friday says:

        Sorry to disappoint you, but I just deal with facts. The fact is that all coaches say the same tripe, and you are a fool if you think any insight can be gained from paying any attention to it. for instance, did a word of what Roper said last year come true? yet there were plenty of folks that were hanging on to every word and proclaiming that UF was now going to be a great offense. Look in the archives, the same exact things were being said last year at this time. The point is that the words don’t change, only the names attached to them. UF will be better on offense when something changes, and it’s not the coaches. UF will be better on offense when a decent quarterback shows up. It’s not a coincidence that UF ‘s failure on offense began when Tebow departed. Maybe there’s a good quarterback on campus now, but talking won’t produce one.

        • 305Gator says:

          You are partially correct. Yes it is true that we need a good QB to win. We also need good WRs. Since Tebow left we haven’t had any of those. Or have we? Deondre Thompson and Frankie Hammond were busts at UF, yet they both made it to the NFL. Is the same thing going to happen with Quinton Dunbar? Who knows.
          What is known is that for the past 5 years or so we haven’t been able to develop anyone out of those 2 positions, QB and WR. That is why our offense has been so pathetic.
          Give the new staff a chance to work with the QBs we have, one redshirt frosh who hasn’t played a down and one true frosh who started only the last few games of the season. You can say that you have seen Harris play and that he sucks, I get it. But I disagree. Give Harris a full offseason to work with coaches who know how to develop QBs and then let’s see what happens.

          • Michael J. says:

            I’m not one to say that Harris sucks. We really don’t know anything based on him being thrown out into the fire as a true freshman. Even Winston had the benefit of a redshirt year to just watch and learn. Maybe Grier will be great, we have no idea. Harris will have to overcome his height, but Russell Wilson has shown us that can be done, and I don’t think he wowed anyone as a true freshman. As for the receivers, a good quarterback is the key. It’s very hard to develop into a good receiver when you don’t have any confidence in your quarterback. When you believe in your quarterback, passes that were once dropped are caught. Receivers are not hard to find, in my opinion. Developing chemistry between a receiver and a quarterback is the key. You don’t need to a NFL receiver to be a great receiver in college. I think we’ll see the receivers step up when we see a quarterback step up. I do know that UF desperately needs a quarterback this class, along with a running back, I’m still waiting for someone to say yes.

  6. chigator says:

    It’s hard to remember a time when Florida defenses didn’t play with substantial “swag” and “edge”. Is that really what this hire was all about? Sorry but this seems like more show than substance.

  7. J.A. says:

    This is definitely the “talking season”. I think we need to recruit a transfer or juco quarterback to create some competition and depth at the position. Why aren’t we going after a guy like Braxton Miller ? He would improve our offense immediately. Also the Cardele Jones kid from OSU would be a nice addition because surely he’s not going to back JT Barret up for his last two years of school, as you would have to assume Barret will be the starter next year. Just saying..

    • Dave Massey says:

      You can’t actively recruit players on other teams. They would also have to sit out a year, except Miller if he graduates. Do you really have to be told these things?

  8. Brandon says:

    @Dave Massey

    I agree with and understand what J.A. is saying. He just made a good point. And we do need qb depth. Obviously you don’t recruit players from other teams and he knows that. What he’s saying is there’s a strong possibility that OSU may have two quarterbacks transferring after the national championship game tonight. Braxton Miller and Cardele Jones are both talented qbs who have proven that they are starters. So why would they want to come back to OSU as backups next year. If they do decide to transfer then hopefully they’ll give us a call. Either one could help UF, whether its Braxton next year or Cardele 2016-2017. IMO

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