New Tar Heels DC Geoff Collins travels the Temple-to-NC pipeline

Three of the last four former Temple coaches have moved on to jobs in the Old North State

UNC hired former Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins to be its next defensive coordinator. (John Bazemore / AP Photo)

Are you a football team in North Carolina looking to fill a coaching staff vacancy? Clearly, your first call should be to a college in Philadelphia better known for basketball and Bill Cosby.

Temple University may not have a long and storied football history. The Owls have been playing since 1894 and have as many bowl wins as All-Americans — three. But for teams around here, it’s Angie’s List and ZipRecruiter all rolled into one.

The latest contribution from North Carolina’s personal cradle of coaches is Geoff Collins, the Western Carolina alumnus who coached the Owls in 2017 and 2018, going 15-10 before leaving for Georgia Tech.

Tar Heels coach Mack Brown hired Collins last week to replace departed defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. Collins becomes the third former Temple coach out of the last four to get a job coaching football in the Old North State.

It wasn’t always that way. In the first 110 years of Temple football, the Owls had 23 coaches. The only names on that list most fans would recognize are Pop Warner, better known as the namesake of youth football leagues, and Bruce Arians, the beret-wearing former coach of the NFL’s Colts and Cardinals.

Five years into the 21st century, however, something must have changed in the water — or the cheesesteaks and Wawa coffee — in the Philadelphia area. The next two coaches both used Temple as a steppingstone to the ACC — Al Golden, who left for Miami in 2010, and Steve Addazio, who departed for BC in 2012.

Addazio was replaced by Matt Rhule, who parlayed a 28-23 Temple record to a job at Baylor and then a brief but lucrative (for him) stint coaching the Carolina Panthers. The Owls replaced Rhule with Collins, who pulled off the daily double of leaving for the ACC and following Rhule to North Carolina.

Then there’s Manny Diaz.

The current Duke coach was defensive coordinator at Miami when Temple hired him for the head job. He accepted and was introduced, only to have his former boss, Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt, retire. When Miami offered Diaz the opportunity to replace Richt, he left Temple — for the ACC — after 17 days on the job and a 0-0 record.

Diaz, of course, has now found his way to the state that has become the resting home for old Temple coaches, taking the head coaching job at Duke.

Collins has his work cut out for him, inheriting a defense that gave up more than 400 yards a game each of the last two seasons. UNC ranked 12th in the ACC in total defense last season and last in pass defense. Granted, the unit was improved over the previous year, but not enough to allow Chizik to stay on the job.

“We met extensively following the season, and despite the improvements from last season to this season, we mutually agreed that parting ways would be in the best interest of both he and the program,” Brown said of Chizik’s departure in a statement.

One area it’s believed that Brown was hoping to see more improvement was in the level of aggression of the Tar Heels defense. Chizik was a conservative defensive coach, and the Tar Heels ranked near the bottom of the nation in sacks and takeaways as Chizik focused more on prevention than attack — a bend-but-don’t-break approach.

That shouldn’t be an issue with Collins, who was nicknamed “The Minister of Mayhem” in his first Power Five defensive coordinator job, at Mississippi State. Under Collins, the Bulldogs led the SEC in sacks and were near the top of the league in most categories. From there, he moved to Florida, where he built a defense that ranked No. 6 in the nation.

Collins’ style on defense is high-octane and aggressive. Energy and desire are valued more than technique. Unlike Chizik, he wants to break things.

Collins is also aggressive on the recruiting trail. UNC’s bio of him touts the fact that he has “recruited and/or coached more than three dozen players that have gone on to play in the NFL,” and that, as Georgia Tech head coach, he assembled the first top-25 recruiting class for the Yellow Jackets in 13 years. That seems to indicate that he’ll take a more active role in recruiting than Chizik, who often seemed to let assistants do the road work while he closed the deal once they got to campus.

So the Tar Heels defense will be pinning its ears back and dialing up blitzes next season. It could lead to a rapid improvement in what has been UNC’s Achilles’ heel the last two seasons, or it could result in big plays surrendered.

If the latter is the case, and the Collins hire doesn’t work out … well, there’s always Rod Carey and Stan Drayton — the last two coaches to lead Temple football.