A coach not afraid any of any challenge
By Joseph Santoliquito
Isaac Collins freely admits he wasn’t gifted with an abundance of talent or size. The third of four boys, Collins was also the smallest of his three brothers, who were all over 6-feet tall. Little Isaac was barely 5-foot-8, and weighed just over 150 pounds. On a good day.
Still, it didn’t deter him from starring as a running back at the University of Rochester, where he eventually became team captain and in 1992 was named conference offensive player of the year. The determination born of his formative years pushed him to take on steep challenges like resurrecting the once-storied Widener University program as a first-time head coach.
Over three years, he did.
The Pride enjoyed one of those seasons for the ages in 2012 with their sterling 11-1 finish, reaching the Division III NCAA quarterfinals before losing to eventual national champion Mount Union on December 1.
Widener’s amazing 2012 saw the Pride outscore their opponents 550 points to 248, averaging a stunning 45.8 points a game, and averaging 6.4 yards per play.
In three years, Collins transformed a dormant program into a national power once again. He inherited a team that went 3-7 in 2009 before taking over in 2010. Over Collins’ three years, the Pride went a combined 25-8.
Widener’s amazing 2012 season earned Collins Middle Atlantic Conference and D3Football.com East Region Coach of the Year.
Last season proved to be a record-setting year for the Pride. Under Collins’ guidance, the program captured a MAC league-record 19th championship, and advanced to the national quarterfinals for the first time since 2001.
The Pride’s 11-0 start was just the fourth time in school history Widener began a year undefeated that late into a season. Widener’s seven 2012 victories at Leslie C. Quick Jr. Stadium tied a school record for victories at home in a season, and the Pride appeared in the postseason for the 18th time.
When he took over the program, Collins had a daunting task ahead. The Widener program was on a downward spiral. The Pride took a precipitous slip from the program Hall of Fame coach Bill Manlove had cultivated in the 1970s and early-1980s that won two Division III national championships, in 1977 and ’81.
“From the very first day I got into coaching, it was always my dream to be a head coach,” Collins said. “Going through the process, you find out different things. I didn’t know if I really wanted to be a head coach, because I really liked being close to the players. That was my fear as a head coach, because there are more things that you’re tied to as a head coach. You have more responsibilities than just interacting with your players. Coaching at Widener for me was like going back to ‘Coaching 101.’
“Early on, I have to tell you, I wasn’t the most popular guy on campus in trying to change the culture. Anyone that comes in and instills some new discipline can meet with some early friction. We had to work at it and be patient. There were some things at Widener I struggled with early on, meeting the needs of the players, meeting the needs of the administration, and needs of the program in general. A lot of times, those needs aren’t the same. As I started the process at Widener, you can still develop personal relationships. Managing my time better as a head coach is something I learned, while keeping in mind as a head coach, we’re here to help these young men develop and make them mentors and leaders.”
Collins also made the young men at Widener into winners. He’s hoping to do the same with yet another challenge—transforming Division II Seton Hill into winners. The Griffins went 0-11 in 2012. The program moved from Division III to Division II in 2007, and reached the second round of the NCAA playoffs in 2008. Since then, the Griffins have lost 40 of 44 games over four seasons in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Next season, Seton Hill will enter the western division of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC), with Division II powerhouses like Indiana of Pennsylvania, Mercyhurst and California University of Pennsylvania.
“I don’t shy away from a challenge, there’s no doubt about that,” Collins said, laughing. “The first time I addressed the team at Seton Hill, I told them we have as good a chance as anyone in the country to compete for a national championship. You could see guys falling out of their chairs laughing. I know that’s setting the bar high. We know we have our work cut out for us, just like we knew we had our work cut out for us at Widener. But if you do things the right way, the wins will come. You have to earn it. It’s something I learned throughout my life.”
Joseph Santoliquito is a Pennsylvania high school committee member of the Maxwell Club and a feature writer for CBS MaxPreps and CBS Philly