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Former Southern Miss football coach, Laurel native Bobby Collins passes away

After graduating from Mississippi State University, Collins focused on being a coach and...
After graduating from Mississippi State University, Collins focused on being a coach and quickly became a respected assistant coach in college football, which helped him be a candidate for USM’s head coaching job in 1974.(University of Southern Mississippi)
Published: Nov. 16, 2021 at 2:48 PM CST
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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - The University of Southern Mississippi Department of Athletics mourns the passing of former Golden Eagles football coach Bobby Collins earlier this week.

Collins was head coach for the Southern Miss football team from 1975-1981 and posted a 48-30-2 record during his tenure.

Before becoming a coach, Collins was a standout athlete at Laurel High School before having a memorable career at Mississippi State.

After graduating from MSU, Collins focused on being a coach and quickly became a respected assistant coach in college football, which helped him be a candidate for USM’s head coaching job in 1974.

Collins was an assistant at the University of North Carolina before joining the Golden Eagles in 1975. He was handed a USM football program still finding its footing in NCAA Division I football, along with not being able to coach at home for his first 13 games as the team played on the road while renovations were being done at M.M. Roberts Stadium.

Through the hardships, Collins still had a plan that he felt he could execute to put the team in a national spotlight.

Not knowing how long it may take, Collins knew two things: He and the football program can draw a circle in a 300-mile radius of Hattiesburg and get the best players, and the team would have to defeat both the University of Mississippi and MSU’s football teams to upgrade their ability to recruit top players in the state.

Collins’ first team in 1975 surprised a lot of people by finishing with an 8-3 record even though not playing a single home game. They won six of their last seven games that season, and after losing its first nine games the next season, the team stood tall to win their final two games against Memphis State University (now known as the University of Memphis) and the University of Texas – Arlington, spoiling those teams bid for a postseason berth.

In 1977, the team went 6-6, but Collins’ plan started to be fulfilled as the Golden Eagles recorded wins over the University of Auburn, Ole Miss and MSU. The Golden Eagles started to believe and many top recruits were now looking at Southern Miss in a different light.

However, Collins wasn’t not relying heavily on “blue-chip” prospects; he and the staff had the ability to find players no one else paid much attention to. He was able to look a couple of years down the line and see how good a player they could develop into and where they could play.

USM opened the 1980 season with six-straight wins and moved into the Associated Press poll for the first as a D-I school, when they were ranked No. 20 on Oct. 20. The team went on to finish 9-3 and earned a bid to the Independence Bowl, the school’s first post-season bowl bid since 1957.

Collins’ 1981 team is possibly the best in school history, as he coached players such as Sammy Winder, Reggie Collier, Marvin Harvey and the “Nasty Bunch” defense. The team started the season with four-straight wins, tied No. 7 University of Alabama and won four more to improve to an 8-0-1 recording, earning them the No. 9 ranking in the AP poll and a No. 8 ranking in the UPI poll (now known as the Coaches poll). They finished the season 9-2-1 and played in the Tangerine Bowl.

Seven years after promising to move USM into the national spotlight, Bobby Collins completed his plan.

Collins left Southern Miss after the 1981 season to take over at Southern Methodist University, where he posted a 43-15-1 record and played in three bowl games. He later returned to USM to work as a fundraiser for the athletic department.

Collins passed away at the age of 88.

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