GREELEY, Colo. – Earnest Collins, Jr., the University of Northern Colorado single-season school record holder for punt return yards and a former assistant coach for the Bears, has been named the next head football coach, director of athletics Jay Hinrichs announced Tuesday.
Collins becomes the 16th football coach in school history and the first to return to his alma mater to serve as head coach. In 1996, Collins received his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from Northern Colorado after playing for the Bears from 1991-94, where he amassed 978 punt return yards, then the school record and still second all-time. His 497 punt return yards from his senior season are still atop the school’s leader board.
“I am very excited to reintroduce Earnest Collins to the University of Northern Colorado football family as the new head football coach,” said Hinrichs. “Coach Collins certainly has UNC ties. He played – holds records – and coached as a member of past Bears teams. He knows Colorado recruiting and believes there is a wealth of football talent in this state. His teams have always brought a style of play that is physical and exciting for fans to watch.”
Collins inherits a team with 36 returning lettermen, including 16 starters that posted a 3-8 record in 2010 and finished seventh in the Big Sky standings. He has remained an active member of the Blue & Gold Club and is also a member of the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interest Committee.
“First and foremost,” said Collins, “God has been very good to me in this process. I truly believe this job is for me. It’s an honor and a privilege that Jay Hinrichs and President Norton thought enough of me to become the head football coach at Northern Colorado.”
“Coach Collins is the right coach for UNC now and in the future,” said University of Northern Colorado President Kay Norton. “He can relate to prospective football student-athletes and students in Denver and Colorado because he was one of them. He is an outstanding example of the transformative effect that UNC can have on a person, who in turn goes on to pay that forward to others. He is a winner in every sense of the word.”
After a stellar career at Northern Colorado, where he lettered every season from 1991 through 1994 and earned all-conference honors in 1994, Collins spent 1996-99 at Northwest Missouri State as the secondary and assistant special teams coach, helping the Bearcats to the 1998 and 1999 NCAA Division II National Championships. In both seasons, Collins and the Bearcats got the best of the Bears in the playoffs, winning the quarterfinals in 1998 in Maryville (42-17) and then winning the 1999 semifinals at Nottingham Field (41-35).
From 2000-03, Collins returned to Greeley where he served as the secondary and special teams coach. In 2002, the Bears reached the NCAA Division II Semifinals and had the top-ranked defense in the North Central Conference (NCC) and No. 8 defense among Division II (249.8 yards per game).
After his second coaching stint with UNC, Collins became the special teams and cornerbacks coach at Kansas from 2003-06. The Jayhawks advanced to two bowl games and he coached a pair of All-Americans in the defensive backfield. He spent 2007 at Central Florida before heading to Alcorn State in 2008 as the associate head coach. In 2009, he was elevated to head coach at Alcorn State.
“We often talk about being able to finish,” stated Hinrichs. “Coach Collins will instill this ability in each of our current Bears and the football student-athletes of the future. He has progressed in the coaching ranks because of his great football experience and knowledge. We welcome Coach Collins, his wife, Tabatha, and his daughters Tayler and Marci to the Greeley community.”
“I want to thank each and every member of the head coach search committee for their tireless attention to this process,” added Hinrichs. “Everyone involved shares in my appreciation.”
“This is a chance for me to come home to the place that made me who I am,” said Collins. “My mom and UNC made me the man I am today so I am thankful for the opportunity to come home. I believe every coach’s dream is to come back and coach at his alma mater and win championships at his alma mater. I can’t wait to get started and see what we can accomplish. I know we can do some great things at UNC.”