The Florida Gators defense has been a unit that drew fear in the hearts and minds of their opponents. Players like Major Wright, Joe Haden, Brandon Spike, Carlos Dunlap, Dominique Easley, Dante Fowler Jr. and Sharrif Floyd paved the way for the current crop of defensive players the Gators have.
New defensive coordinator Geoff Collins is walking into a great situation. The Gators defense was ranked fifth in the SEC in total defense and there is a slew of talented playmakers coming back next season.
“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,” said Collins. “The talent that has been assembled here, you know, is legitimate SEC talent.”
Collins is no slouch himself. He spent a year working at Alabama and knows the defensive principles that Nick Saban teaches and the ones that Will Muschamp brought to Gainesville. Collins teaches those same principles and used them to turn around the defense at Mississippi State, “I think we were No. 1 in the red zone. Top 15 in third down. Top 15 in sacks,” he recalled of the Bulldogs’ defense last season.
Coined the “Minister of Mayhem” at Mississippi State, Collins is everything you would expect a defensive coordinator to be. He’s energetic, enthusiastic and passionate about not only the game of football but helping shape the young men that he will oversee. He walked into the room on Thursday with a bounce in his step and a can of diet Mountain Dew. In Starkville he had a “swag chalice” — a mug with stickers and sayings written on it — that he would drink those same diet Mountain Dews and Five Hour Energy drinks from. “No [swag chalice]. That thing is still being made right now,” he said.
Instantly you can see why he’s successful. Collins is smart but he’s in tune with the kids he’s recruiting and coaching. He can level with and relate to them. Not many 43-year old men will drive their players to practice with rap music blasting out of the speakers, but that’s exactly what he did at Mississippi State. For instance, his previous defense was nicknamed the “psycho defense.” It was more than a nickname, rather the attitude that Collins’ instilled in his players and the energy he wanted them to bring to the field.
“Brandon Wilson, one of the players at Mississippi State one day at practice, said it and we just ran with it. It was something they had fun with,” Collins said. “Just having fun. Creating tackles for loss, and sacks and turnovers. We take the field, that’s a legitimate SEC defense you’re going to have to play with.”
Collins is still getting to know his players, learning their personalities and the way they tick. He’ll find a new nickname that embodies this group.
“It’ll be rebranded to fit this place and fit these kids and their personalities. I’m big on not being a swag stealer,” he said. “So I want to create our own energy, create our own you know branding and something the kids kind of buy into organically and naturally. Not to use too many big words, but that’s what we’re all about.”
Collins has a tall task and big shoes to fill. The Muschamp defenses of the past four years made other teams and fans jealous. There’s a pedigree of defensive excellence at Florida and he’s been tasked with keeping that going.
Fortunately for him the foundation has been laid. He has as much talent on the roster as he’s ever had before. Fueled by Five Hour Energy and diet Mountain Dew, the Gators’ new defensive coordinator is ready for the challenge. In fact, he invites it.
“I’m just excited to be a Florida Gator,” he said. “I’m excited. It’s a great place to be. You get to coach these kids and work with Coach Mac and Coach Shannon, Williams, Callahan.
“It doesn’t get better than that.”