Rarely will a coach – or any employer, for that matter – say, “Yeah, we made an average hire, but it was easy.”
Similarly, a coach will always say on signing day he got exactly who he wanted.
But when Dan Mullen expressed excitement with making Geoff Collins Mississippi State’s new defensive coordinator, a promotion from within, there is at least one reason – among many – to believe the Bulldogs’ head coach.
“He’s had experience at a lot of different levels,” Mullen said of Collins, “and I’m a big fan of that. He and I kind of grew up in that same path.”
Both Mullen and Collins, incidentally, graduated college in 1994, and while Mullen’s career path is a few years ahead, the pair have been on similar tracks, if not opposite sides of the ball.
Collins has been a defensive coordinator before, and actually did so for the first time at age 24, but he’s also been a position coach. He’s been a recruiting coordinator. He’s been a graduate assistant. And he’s done them all in a, perhaps, non-traditional sequence, going from coordinator to assistant and back again, a couple times over.
Mullen, as he’s said, had a similar run. First, he was a position coach (receivers, actually). From there, he took a step down in title to become a graduate assistant, but took a step up in location, going from Columbia to Syracuse and then Notre Dame. From there, a step down in location but a step up in title, becoming the quarterbacks coach at Bowling Green, then again at Utah with Urban Meyer, then finally making his way to offensive coordinator at Florida.
The next stop, of course, was head coach at MSU.
It worked for Mullen, and he likes seeing it in other coaches, too.
“I think you understand everything from top to bottom,” Mullen said. “[Collins] wasn’t a silver spoon coach that just showed up on the door one day. He’s a guy that really worked his way up from the bottom. I think when you have those guys in charge that they know every little detail of everything that needs to get done.”
“Just that transition has been really beneficial to my career,” Collins said.
It would seem so, as the resume passed the scrutiny of Mullen.
But even beyond their history, Mullen and his new defensive coordinator have similarities.
As much as any defense can be like an offense, Collins’ style on his side of the ball and his coach’s on the other mirror each other well.
When Mullen was hired, he preached words like “excitement,” “fun,” “high-octane,” “fast” and “smart.”
His new offense was a shot of life into the MSU fanbase and team. Mullen’s spread attack, he regularly says, is all about creating mismatches and exploiting them. Trick plays, screens, downfield passing, whatever it takes.
What does Mullen expect from Collins on defense?
“I know he’s gonna be aggressive in coming after people, going after people and showing some different looks,” Mullen said. “I think trying to confuse people, especially teams running the no-huddle stuff. That stuff that you face, the ability to make changes in the call while they’re looking at making their checks.”
Play harder, yes, if you can, but both Collins and Mullen want their units to be smart, more than anything, and to attack. Be aggressive. Not sit back and wait.
On offense, Mullen wants first downs, positive yardage, downfield blocking, accurate passes and, most of all, scores.
On defense, Collins said he want sacks, tackles for loss, interceptions and pass break-ups.
As he calls it, “Defensive Mayhem.”
“That stat, I think, hopefully we’ll see a great improvement,” Collins said. “Aggressiveness, defensive mayhem, guys flying around making plays and creating negative plays on the offensive side.”
Of course, if Collins is as much like Mullen as it seems, it may be tough for the head coach to keep him around forever.
If Collins, like Mullen, ends up a head coach one day, the days immediately following his promotion at State may be some of the most beneficial.
As the new defensive coordinator, Collins went with Mullen to interview candidates for the open defensive line and cornerbacks coaching positions at MSU, a new experience for him, and an informative one, as well.
“It was a great learning experience for me, Coach Mullen and I working very closely together, talking to the guys,” Collins said. “The thing that I learned a lot from Coach Mullen in the last week or so is it’s not necessarily the exact hire that you get, but the compliment to the entire coaching staff.”
Just like Mullen had seen him do before naming him defensive coordinator, Collins is learning from each experience, gaining more knowledge and making himself a better coach.
“Coach Mullen put a lot of faith in me,” Collins said.
Looking at the similarities between them, it’s easy to see why.