The first domino that is Jim McElwain’s first Florida coaching staff has fallen in the hire of Geoff Collins as the defensive coordinator. It’s a solid hire of a coach who Florida State tried to lure from Mississippi State last year when Jeremy Pruitt bolted for Georgia just a few days after the Seminoles won the national championship. Collins has worked for Nick Saban and he’s worked twice for George O’Leary (at Georgia Tech and then at UCF) so he’s got a nice pedigree.
Collins is 43-years old, a high energy guy and a solid recruiter. He runs a base 4-3 and he believes in rotating players in and out of the game early so that his best players don’t lack for energy in the fourth quarter when games are decided.
While Mississippi State’s overall #80 ranking in total defense might raise an eyebrow, look at three very important categories. In red zone defense, Mississippi State ranked #1 nationally in keeping opponents out of the end zone. In third down defense, they ranked second in the SEC and 13th nationally. In sacks, they ranked second in the league to Missouri and ranked #16 nationally.
If Collins is indicative of the kind of assistant that McElwain is going to bring in, then this is going to be a very solid staff. Collins might prove to be a spectacular hire in the future but for now he’s a great beginning for the Gators.
While there is nothing official, it seems less likely with each passing day that McElwain will retain more than one or two coaches from the former staff. It’s common knowledge that Travaris Robinson is being courted but it seems likely that he will go to Auburn to join Will Muschamp’s staff. Late last week it seemed likely that Mike Summers would be retained as the offensive line coach, but there seems far less chatter about that possibility with each passing day. Brian White could also be retained since he has been an offensive coordinator at the highest level (Wisconsin where he called plays for offenses that featured Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne) and he’s versatile enough to coach quarterbacks, running backs and tight ends.
No one should be surprised if McElwain elects to go with an entirely new staff.
As of Tuesday night, here were two coaches who were getting a lot of chatter.
1. Kirk Callahan, UCF secondary coach: Collins worked for George O’Leary for two years (2008-09) where he coached linebackers and served as the recruiting coordinator. Callahan is a rising star whose secondaries have been lock down the last couple of years. There is a Gator connection because Callahan worked as a GA for both Urban Meyer and Will Muschamp. And, there is the practical side of it: Callahan’s dad is the coach at Armwood, which churns out the prospects.
2. John Settle, Pittsburgh running backs coach: Paul Chryst is expected to become the Wisconsin head coach today and while he would be able to offer Settle a raise, what Pitt and Wisconsin pay would be lower levels in the Southeastern Conference. Settle coached James Conner (1,675 rushing yards, 24 touchdowns) this year at Pitt and he’s considered an outstanding recruiter. The connection with McElwain is through Pat Hill, the former coach at Fresno State. Settle worked for Hill for eight years while McElwain was the OC there in 2007.
Florida State vs. Oregon (Rose Bowl): If you look at how Oregon steamrolled most of its opponents and how Florida State struggled to win so many games, then it’s easy to understand why so many of the experts say the Ducks are going to win this game. The experts look at those two interceptions Marcus Mariota threw and the 17 that Jameis Winston threw and think Oregon holds all the cards. They might be right, but on the other hand, Oregon hasn’t faced a team as fast or with as many big, fast athletes who can run as Florida State.
To FSU’s advantage, the Seminoles have been there and done that. While they aren’t nearly as good as they were last year, they’re still good enough to carry a 29-game winning streak into this game and they find ways to win when it looks like they’re about to go down in flames. No matter how badly Winston has played the first 50 minutes of a game, he’s been practically unstoppable in the last ten and that does count for something in a game where the stakes are this high. And, no matter how many punches the FSU defense takes, they seem to be the ones delivering all the blows late in games.
Oregon will be the best offense the Seminoles have faced this year and in Mariota, they have a playmaker who just doesn’t make mistakes and skill people with more speed than the Seminoles have seen. Mariota will have to be at his best for Oregon to win this game. He hasn’t seen a secondary with the kind of closing speed that he will see against Florida State, but FSU hasn’t faced a quarterback with Mariota’s pinpoint accuracy, either. For Oregon to win this game, Mariota has to play mistake-free on the offensive side and the defense can’t allow FSU’s big, physical offensive line push them around.
Advantage goes to: Even though they have a 29-game winning streak on the line and they won the national championship last year, the Seminoles will have the least amount of pressure. They’ve been there and done that as a team and Jimbo Fisher knows what it takes to prepare a team to play a game of this magnitude. Oregon is an 8.5-point favorite. If the game is a shootout, I like the Ducks’ chances. If it’s close, I think it favors the Seminoles. My gut tells me that Oregon is going to win this game, but I might change my mind between now and January 1.
Ohio State vs. Alabama (Sugar Bowl): It’s comical to listen to some of the commentators who swear that Urban Meyer is quaking in his boots at the thought of facing Nick Saban again. Just as Saban isn’t the least bit afraid of Meyer, Meyer isn’t at all frightened by the thought of facing Saban. Now, Urban might wish he had either Braxton Miller or J.T. Barnett available but fear won’t be a factor.
Saban and Meyer are the two best coaches in the college game today. If you have one game to win and a month to prepare, these are the guys you want prepping your team. Saban’s last 13 years as a head coach at LSU and Alabama have produced four national championships and a 134-32 record including 86-16 at Alabama. Meyer’s 13 years as a head coach have produced two national championships and a 140-26 record.
There are three good reasons why Alabama is listed as a 9-point favorite: (1) The Crimson Tide played an SEC schedule, not the usual bad suspects from the Big Ten; (2) Alabama can win with its defense or its offense; and (3) Alabama has the best player in the game (and maybe the country) in Amari Cooper and its offensive philosophy is put the ball in his hands in space.
Nobody really gives Ohio State much of a chance to win, but if you recall 2006, nobody gave the Gators a chance against the Big Bad Buckeyes and Meyer used that to his advantage by putting the best prepared team on the field with the biggest chip on its shoulder. Expect him to try the same tactics this time.
Advantage goes to: I think Ohio State has the athletes to stop Alabama’s running game or its passing game, but not both. If the Buckeyes stop Cooper, then T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry to chew them up in the running game. I’d like Ohio State’s chances a lot better with J.T. Barrett than Cardale Jones. Jones has started only one game and there is no way he will recognize everything Alabama will throw at him. I believe Alabama is going to win this game, but it’s going to be closer than anyone expects. However, if it comes down to a field goal, that is Alabama’s one glaring weakness.
You could call this Bo Pelini’s revenge. He’s now the head coach at Division IAA Youngstown State, whose president is former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel. He’ll probably make something like $250,000 a year at Youngstown State, which is about the same amount of money fired coach Eric Wolford was making. Pelini’s monthly check will be something in the $20-25,000 range and that means Nebraska will be on the hook for about $125,000 a month … for the next 43 months.
Under the terms of Pelini’s contract and buyout with Nebraska, whatever he makes coaching elsewhere is deducted from the monthly amount of his buyout. Pelini could have been the defensive coordinator at either Texas A&M or South Carolina where they would have gladly paid him more than $1 million a year, but this way he can spend the next four years refining his head coaching skills while making more money than any D1AA head coach and stick it to Nebraska all the while.
You have to question the brains – or lack of – behind the operation at Nebraska. Bo really wanted to get fired last year. He hated Nebraska as much as the Big Red fan base hated him but instead of firing him, they gave him a contract extension and a raise. He went 9-3 this year – he won at least nine games every year during his seven-year stay in Lincoln – and 67-27 for his career. If they had fired him prior to the contract extension they could have saved about $5 million.
My late grandmother, the very sage and ever so wise Ivey Van Sickel would have called the folks at Nebraska suckers. And, of course, she would have been right.
Do you think McElwain should retain any coaches from the previous staff or should he start with a clean slate?
I liked Hall and Oates from the first time I heard “She’s Gone” back in 1974. Their 1976 “Bigger Than Both of Us” album only had one great song – “Rich Girl” – but it hit number one and provided the momentum for a string of hit songs and albums that made them one of the best selling bands of all time and certainly the band that sold more records than anyone else during the 1980s. “Rich Girl” is still one of my favorite sing-along songs, probably because it reminds me all too much of a couple of girls I dated.