Conversations with Coach Collins

Olivia Goudy: To start off, what’s your first impression of Seton Hill?

Isaac Collins: “I’ve been very impressed. When I came on the interview, you know, sometimes looks can be a little deceiving. You’re driving in thinking, ‘Am I going to like it?’ ‘Will it be good for my family?’ But as I drove up the hill and walked into this building—from the very first person I met ‘till the last person I met—just a bunch of amazing people who are really passionate about our young people.”

OG: Now for the obvious question: What are your plans for developing our football team?

IC: “Well I think the first thing is to look internally at who we are and build on why we’re in the current state we’re in—not just in terms of wins and losses, but what we’re doing academically and socially. There are the obvious things, like developing them in the weight room. But there are things with building them as successful young men that will benefit them past their time with us. The first thing to tackle is leadership—how to be better leaders, what is good leadership and how to learn from bad leadership. Everyone thinks it has to be rosy and clean, but it doesn’t. There are going to be tough times, but they will endure. These young men have been through alot, so we’ll start with their core, work on building them up into the young men that their families can be proud of—young men that this university can be proud of.”

OG: What personally made you want to be a coach and mentor in a leadership position?

IC: “Anyone that has known me long enough, there was talk when I was five years old that I would make a pretty good leader. I don’t think I ever set out to be a leader. I’ve been blessed that people have looked to me because I tried to treat people the right way. It became a natural trait for me. If you talk to anyone about what it takes to be a leader, one of the first things they’ll tell you is you have to learn to follow and serve. Growing up, that was my demeanor and the way I was raised. Good bad or indifferent, I think you can learn from someone every single day. For me it was a case that until I got on the coaching job, I hadn’t realized that I really wanted to coach. It was an opportunity that I got to sink my teeth into and made me realize what I wanted to do, and here I am, 18 years later, still doing it.”

OG: On a larger scale, who is your biggest influence, biggest inspiration?

IC: “It would have to be Tony Dungy. I’ve got a closet full of books on him. I’ve met him in passing, but I’ve had an appreciation of him from afar. His ‘The Mentor Leader’ book is incredible and focuses on leadership and developing a team. A big thing is leading by example. It’s a great concept.”

OG: You said in the Westmoreland Sports Network interview that “you work so hard to build a house for someone else to move in.” What prompted that decision to leave?

IC: “It was a combination of things. The thing that intrigued me was when I came out, my mindset wasn’t that I was going to take the job. It was more to see who Seton Hill was and explore. And then you get on campus and you meet people and you start to slowly get excited and say ‘this is going to be the next step.’ When you factor in the people, the opportunities, the challenges and the resources—they were all things that made it okay to walk away from a pretty good situation with some amazing kids and players. From that standpoint, I can say that I didn’t actually have a point where I decided to leave. It was more steps along the way to it. I was very, very happy at Widener, so it wasn’t a situation where I was unhappy. But it goes back to saying when God opens doors, you don’t really ask questions. I felt there was a need for my leadership here and that young men in the program could benefit from this plan. It’s a great opportunity to work with another great administration.”

OG: If you could be doing something else, another profession, what would it be?

IC: “I think I would be a lawyer. But I don’t know how far I would’ve made it in that—you can’t really keep me in an office very long and I can’t be indoors. I’m a guy who likes to be on the go, so coaching is an easy fit. In my 18 years, it has never felt like work. If you can wake up in the morning, be passionate about what you do, and feel like you’ve never worked a day in your life, then you’ve got the right profession.”

OG: You’ve mentioned a lot about your faith. Did Seton Hill being a Catholic university affect your decision to come here?

IC: “Any time you can be associated with an environment that’s going to foster spiritual growth is something that’s important to me. In my previous experiences, we’ve tried to provide activities that develop spiritual growth in whatever religious belief they may have and getting them to understand that that’s where it all begins. If our young people leave us and they don’t have a true understanding of what unconditional faith is, it’s going to be hard for them to be leaders in their household. Being in this environment and culture here will be a good fit. And it’s good for them to be ‘double-dipped’ as they say—when they leave me they’ll also hear it from Sister Maureen or someone else. Hopefully in the time their four years are up, we’ve built up a man that can endure the challenges of this world.”

OG: Does this also play into your coaching strategies?

IC: “When you begin to coach, you kind of start to emulate the way you might have been coached. I grew up being coached by some very tough people. They got after me. So early in my coaching profession, that was kind of who I was, too. As you get older and start to have kids, you reflect a little bit that you can be tough but compassionate as well. I think my transition to leaning more on my faith as I got older certainly helped me endure and learn how to handle players or situations. That’s how Jesus was—he had to be compassionate, and he was very tough. It helped things become full circle to me. It isn’t until you’re older that you gain appreciation for all those times going to church and things you do as a kid. It wasn’t your parents trying to drive you crazy—they were trying to give you something to take with you that will last a lifetime. And now, I get an opportunity on a bigger scale to try and do that over the course of four years with the young men I coach.”

OG: You’re from New York originally, and have been down to The Citadel in South Carolina, to Delaware and now here—do you enjoy traveling or is it just part of the job?

IC: “I hate traveling. I’ve been blessed that my wife happens to like moving, so it doesn’t affect her. But I’m a creature of habit. In the profession I’ve chosen, though, there are a lot of times where you can’t control that. The biggest burden is just being away from the family. Just to kind of show you how we’re a football family, my kids opened their gifts on Christmas morning, then went to pack their bags to come up here and visit. Instead of playing with their toys over their break, they came and ran around the building here, calling it a ‘castle.’ That’s the toughest part of a transition, but I think they’re also excited about coming to Greensburg.”

OG: I noticed in your resume that you have worked through the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants. Tell us a little more about that.

IC: “Well I worked through the Minority Coaching Fellowship program, founded by the legendary Bill Walsh. It gave opportunities to minority coaches to be exposed to the workings of an NFL football team. I worked with some incredible people there, sat in on staff meetings, and helped coach for about two weeks with the Giants. With the Eagles, I worked with them through their training camp. I focused a lot on both team’s defensive programs.”

OG: The Seton Hill community now knows you as a professional football coach—but what about you as Isaac Collins? Do you have a nickname?

IC: “Well, my friends call me ‘Ike.’ Growing up, my uncle Sam used to call me ‘ikenbug’ and the name kind of stuck. My buddies caught on and it’s been that way ever since.”

OG: What’s your favorite NFL team?

IC: “Hmmm. Steelers. [Laughs] Behind that would be the Cowboys—but don’t tell anyone.”

OG: It looks like the 49ers and the Ravens are in the Super Bowl this year. Who will you be rooting for?

IC: “[Laughs] That’s tough. I’ve got tremendous respect for both Harbaugh brothers. Part of me would really like to see Ray Lewis go out on top since he’s retiring, but it’s hard. I guess I would have to say that I’m just rooting for a good game. I’ll remain neutral.”

OG: Being in Steeler country, you’ll notice that a lot of people are rooting against the Ravens—they just want the other guys to win. But, the Ravens have played a great season.

IC: “[Laughs] Hey, they’ve played well enough to get to the Super Bowl. It’s funny actually; I hadn’t put that connection together until I witnessed Steeler fans watching the last game. Any time the Ravens did something, they ‘boo-ed’ and then it clicked—there’s a little bit of a rivalry there I see.”

OG: Now for some favorites—favorite movie?

IC: “Hmmm. You know being a sequels guy, I’d probably say ‘Lethal Weapon.’ I couldn’t tell you which one; I enjoy them all for different reasons.

OG: Not a football movie?

IC: “I mean, I enjoy them. I enjoyed ‘The Blindside.’ But let’s put it this way. If I’m walking through a store and ‘Lethal Weapon’ is on, I’m probably going to stop to watch it before I stop to watch, oh, ‘Any Given Sunday.’ What can I say, ‘Lethal Weapon’ is a classic.”

OG: How about your favorite TV show?

IC: “Easy—‘Criminal Minds.’”

OG: Do you happen to watch “NCIS?”

IC: “I watch the Los Angeles version, yes.”

OG: You remind me of Director Vance—and now a little of LL Cool J.

IC: “[Laughs] Okay, I can see it all now.”

OG: What’s your favorite genre of music?

IC: “Well, if you got in my car, you’d hear gospel—big gospel fan. But I listen to it all. A lot of R&B, some hip-hop; but the guys I coach don’t really know the hip-hop artists that I grew up listening to. They don’t even know Run-D.M.C.. [Laughs] Hey I even listen to some country. I just don’t think I could listen to opera. I listen to it all—even though my kids call it ‘old-people-music.’”

OG: That being said, who’s your favorite artist?

IC: “I’d have to say for gospel, I love Shirley Caesar. In terms of R&B and hip-hop, I like New Addition, some Keith Sweat and the Fugees. If it’s rap, I prefer obviously Run-D.M.C., some LL Cool J, Eric. B & Rakim—they were the ones grew up on. Today’s age, I can appreciate some of the stuff Jay-Z does.”

OG: Just for fun—if you could be an animal, what would you be?

IC: “[Laughs] Well I’m a big fan of lions, but that’s too easy. I should dig in—I could probably see myself as a badger. Just one of those small, fierce guys.”

OG: Is there anything you’d like to say in general to the SHU community?

IC: “Well I am just excited beyond belief to be here. My hope is that they’ll join me in building this program and its prominence. I don’t plan on judging these guys on wins and losses on the field. I want to focus on off the field—are they doing well in classes, engaging in the community, displaying leadership, etc. It truly takes a village to raise a child, so to build a football program that we can all be proud of is certainly going to take the help of the SHU community.”

OG: That’s one of the great things about the SHU community—regardless of the outcome of the games; our fans are devoted to the Griffins.

IC: “Hopefully people will come out on Saturdays—rain, snow, sleet or hail—to support our guys, and will them into victory. We are excited and dedicated to making a product to put on the field that’ll make it enjoyable to watch.”

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