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Geoff Collins and Temple are using SWAG to bring actual fun back to college football

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The Owls’ new head coach plans to keep having fun in Philly.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If your favorite team lost to Florida in the last three seasons, you probably saw them on the sideline at some point: two skinny guys jumping around like maniacs on every opponent third down, holding giant blue and orange placards with dollar signs on them.

Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins is now Temple’s head coach and asked that we name them specifically: student assistants Jacob Gabriel and Kane Ivus-Osthus, known in Gainesville as “DJ Dollaz” and “El Diablo” (respectively). They still keep an active Twitter account (@MoneyDownUF) even though both have moved on, El Diablo following Collins to Temple.

Also we’re supposed to mention that the in-game “Money Down” signs were toned down to be school appropriate.

“The practices ones, they had more swag. They had glitter and different rap artists on them. Gameday ones, little bit more corporate,” Collins said.

And anytime coaches were reviewing film and a sideline shot came up, Collins would check the effort of his “Money Down” team’s hell-raising on third downs. Sometimes he’d call them into the film room if he didn’t like what he saw.

“Hey,” he’d tell them in front of the defensive staff, “This is what you’re putting on film. Is this how you want to represent yourself?”

Collins has led Top 20 and Top 10 defenses at two SEC programs, Mississippi State and Florida (his 2016 Gators allowed only 17.9 points per game), becoming “The Minister Of Mayhem” for his multiplicity and blitz packages. He’s embraced the Philadelphia ethos of toughness and checks every box for “defensive football coach.”

But he also made two student assistants famous for the practical purpose of engaging his defense on the field but also keeping everyone around him included, even the student volunteers. It’s the same reason he’ll eat lunch with the GAs at Temple and will leave his office to play FIFA with anyone who asks.

Collins’ attention is every bit as detailed as that of his old bosses Jim McElwain or Nick Saban, yet it’s the details themselves — superhero workout charts, WWE superstars breaking down practice, putting marching band members in the bull ring or letting your fullback play a guitar solo — that imply this crazy notion that college football is actually supposed to be...fun.

There is likely no greater disparity of personas between head coaches this Saturday than Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly and Temple’s Geoff Collins. The SEC veteran and Georgia native arrived in Philadelphia with a prescient knowledge of his “new” program and roster, thanks to former head coach Matt Rhule, one of his best friends.

For years the two had swapped ideas and problem-solving, so Collins knew exactly what he was walking into. Collins believed his new team would be upset losing Rhule, who had recruited the entire roster. So he scrapped the big speech he’d dreamed of giving.

“It’s my first head coaching job, I’m excited, I can’t sleep because I know I’m getting to talk to my team the next day. I’ve got this huge speech prepared I’ve been waiting 20 years to tell. Well, the day before I get to meet the team and introduce myself, it breaks that I’m the new head coach of Temple. So all my Florida players that I’m very close to, they find out. They’re happy for me, texting me, calling me, but in three or four texts you can tell there’s some sadness,” Collins said.

“So it kind of clicked for me. When I went into the team meeting here I didn’t give the speech. I just said ‘Hey, I know what you guys are going through because my players at Florida are going through what you’re going through. So who am I to give this big rah-rah speech?’ I said ‘Hey, I’m here for ya. I’m gonna earn your trust and respect and I know what you’re going through.’”

In 1997 Collins recruited Rhule, then on his way to Rutgers to work as a graduate assistant, to coach at Albright College for $1,800 a year. When Rhule left Broad Street for Baylor, he strongly suggested Collins to Temple.

“A lot of the way I approached team meetings or philosophies or plans were always very, very similar to his. So it’s not about him continuing my message to the team, it’s his message because we developed those at the same time in the same places,” Rhule said.

“A lot of the things you see him doing now he was doing back then. He’s a really, really unique person. Really introspective and multifaceted. Loves soccer.”

Collins leans into character-defying traits, like loving soccer. He might’ve grown up in Conyers, Ga., but Collins is a genuine soccer fan. His father named him after Geoffrey Hurst, who scored a hat trick for England in the 1970 World Cup. At Mississippi State he gained attention for drawing weird, funny messages to recruits. When he was player personnel director at Georgia Tech and Alabama, he championed early use of social media to reach recruits on a platform called MySpace with graphic art.

“A lot of first time head coaches would come in and say, ‘Oh I’ve gotta be like that coach I’ve worked for, or that guy.’ But the best preparation I could have is to be around Jim McElwain at the University of Florida. To be around him on a day to day basis watching him go about his business and be himself. He was Jim McElwain all the time,” Collins said.

“We ran organized, structured meetings and practices [at Florida]. There was a plan for everything. But, at his core, Jim was himself. And so now as a first time head coach I feel that freedom to be me. I don’t need to come in here and be — look, I’ve worked for Nick Saban. I love Nick Saban. I can take the things I know that he did great and still try them from my personality, from my point of view.”

Collins’ Temple will probably look a lot like Rhule’s come Saturday — pro-style on offense with spread as needed, and a defense that’s he’s shifted from small colleges to the SEC with no real overlying schematic theme other than fearlessness and a penchant for blitzing.

If the Owls pull off the upset in South Bend, Collins will immediately start brainstorming how to best promote the win to Temple recruits. Sometimes it’s a 3 a.m. idea for a YouTube video; sometimes he’ll sketch out a graphics package. He’ll fire off the ideas to Dave Gerson, a longtime Temple G.A. and now college football’s first official S.W.A.G. Coordinator.

That’s a: Specialist With Advanced Graphics.

“This place is built on being physical, tough, having discipline, playing relentless. I get that. That’s what Philly is about, that’s what we’re about. But I don’t think that having juice, having energy and some swag is mutually exclusive from those things,” Collins said.