Considering what he had accomplished in two of the past three seasons at South Dakota School of Mines, a Division II school located in Rapid City, South Dakota, it appeared as if Stacy Collins had the Hardrockers headed in the right direction.
Collins led South Dakota School of Mines to winning records in 2013 (6-4) and 2015 (6-5), the last being just the third winning season in the past 30 years. During his four years at the helm of the Hardrockers, Collins recorded 16 wins to become the sixth-winningest coach in the program’s history, which began in 1895.
But an opportunity came along that Collins couldn’t pass up. So, he stepped down as head coach of South Dakota School of Mines and took a job as the special teams coordinator at Utah State.
Collins inherits a special teams unit that tied two school records in 2015. The Aggies averaged 25.6 yards on 33 kickoff returns last year, which tied the original record set in 2007. Furthermore, Utah State returned 44 punts for 429 yards (9.8 ypr), which tied the 1998 team for the most punt returns in a single season.
Overall, the Aggies ranked 10th nationally in kickoff returns and 49th in punt returns last season.
Heading into the second week of spring camp, we sat down with Collins and discussed a number of topics, including his decision to leave South Dakota School of Mines, the special teams players he's inherited and how the coaching staff has meshed with so many new faces.
What was it about Utah State that made you want to resign from your head coaching position at South Dakota School of Mines to become the Aggies’ special teams coordinator?
“It’s always tough when you leave a program that you have put time into, especially when you are at the head coach position. But, this was a tremendous opportunity for me and I have a ton of respect for what (USU head) coach (Matt) Wells has done here at Utah State. I have a ton of respect for what this program has done over the last five-year period and really put this place on the map. The opportunity to come here was just too good.”
Did you have any ties with any of the Utah State coaches before coming here?
“A little bit. I played college ball with Joe Lorig, who was here previously, and worked with him at Western Oregon, Idaho State and Central Washington. I actually came out here last spring ball and watched three or four spring practices. I coached (defensive graduate assistant) Matt Ah You at Central Washington. I also coached (defensive graduate assistant) Manoa Latu at Portland State, so there were some ties there. (Video coordinator) Bill Garren was our video guy at Idaho State and his office was right across from mine.”
How would you describe your coaching philosophy?
“We certainly want to be fundamentally and technically sound, and those are some of our biggest goals during spring ball. We want to play an exciting brand of special teams football. We want to find hidden yardage in special teams, whether that’s in the coverage units coming down or a big return, blocking kicks or punts, we want to add an exciting piece to that.”
Under coach Wells, Utah State has always ranked among the best in the country in punt return defense and kick return defense. Talk about those two areas and how you plan on keeping that going.
“Those are two areas that you want to be at the top at because those are the biggest two. There are a lot of things you can do from a return game, but if you’re not stopping returns, that’s where that big hidden yardage starts. We talk to our guys about starting field position and how that factors into the success of an offense scoring, both our offense or the opposing offense on that end. We just need to continue to build on what they’ve done here. There is a great, solid foundation here and you’ve got to put your best players on those coverage units and that’s a big piece of it right there. With coach Wells’ support on the special teams phase and how important it is, that’s a direct correlation of why they’ve had that success here.”
What do you like about Jake Thompson and Brock Warren, two senior placekickers?
“I haven’t been here a long time, but those guys are what you want from senior leadership in that special teams position. Both have some strengths and are mature guys that do a great job not only on the football field with their work ethic, but also in the meeting room, so I’m real excited to work with them.”
What do you see out of punter Aaron Dalton and what do you hope to get out of him this season?
“Aaron has a big leg. He’s long, he’s got those levers and he can hit it well. If we can get him consistently hitting like he did in the last three or four games of last season, he’s got great potential.”
How do you plan on utilizing Andrew Rodriguez, one of the premier punt returners in the Mountain West?
“Andrew does a great job of catching the football. He’s got a great knack at making people miss, making that first guy miss. We just need to continue to develop those skills and find schemes to make sure we set him up and give him as many opportunities as we can to give him good returns because he certainly has the ability to do it and he’s proven that.”
Kennedy Williams came on late last year as a kick returner. What is your plan with him and in the kickoff return game as a whole?
“We’ll certainly sort through our returners and I’ll learn more about people as we go through it, but Kennedy has jumped out at us in a lot of different special teams drills that we’ve had here in the first couple of practices. I’m excited to work with him, not just as a returner, but his overall ability and what he’s going to bring to our special teams units.”
One position that must be filled is at long snapper. How is that progressing this spring?
“We’ve got two guys that came in and joined us here in the spring in Emmett Odegard and Austin Day. We’re just a couple of practices into it, but I’ve seen some flashes from Emmett and I’m excited about where that’s going to progress in the next few weeks of spring ball to see where we’re at in the big picture, because it’s a key piece. You certainly don’t want to have an issue with long snapping and the kid they had in the past, Salanoa Galea’i, was real solid. We’ll continue to evaluate those guys during spring ball, but there is some talent there. We’ve just got to make sure we’re at the level we need to be.”
When you are not coaching football, what do you enjoy doing?
“I have four daughters, so to be honest with you, it’s family and football. I don’t have a lot of other hobbies, so I’m hanging with my girls when I can. The older two are almost 13 and 11 now, so they are going a million miles an hour. Really, it’s family and football and then after that, I don’t have much time.”
With so many new faces on this staff, what have you noticed with everyone coming together?
“For being here just a short period of time, everybody has come together extremely well. Again, that comes down from the top with the organization here and the expectations that are here, but everybody has been tremendous. I’m excited to work with this group of guys and everybody has jumped on board with both feet in. I’m excited.”