Former Southern Miss football coach Bobby Collins dies

Published 10:05 am Tuesday, November 16, 2021

HATTIESBURG — Bobby Collins, the coach who led Southern Miss’ football program to some of its greatest heights in the late 1970s and early 80s, has died.

Collins was 88.

Collins was born in Laurel and played football at Mississippi State from 1951-54. After graduating he embarked on a coaching career that lasted more than 30 years and included stops at seven schools.

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After spending 20 years as an assistant, Collins was hired as Southern Miss’ head coach in 1975 and immediately turned the program into a winner. He went 8-3 in in his first season while playing every game on the road because of renovations to M.M. Roberts Stadium, and in 1977 the Golden Eagles recorded wins over Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

In 1980, the Golden Eagles opened the year with six consecutive wins and moved into the Associated Press poll for the first time as a Division I school, when they were ranked No. 20 on Oct. 20. That team went on to finish 9-3 and earned a berth in the Independence Bowl, the school’s first postseason bowl bid since 1957.

The 1981 team was arguably the best in school history. With Sammy Winder, Reggie Collier, Marvin Harvey and the “Nasty Bunch” defense, they started the year with four straight wins, tied No. 7 Alabama, then won four more to improve to 8-0-1 and earn a No. 9 ranking in the AP poll and a No. 8 ranking in the UPI poll. That team finished 9-2-1 and played in the Tangerine Bowl.

Collins left Southern Miss after the 1981 season to take over at SMU. In five seasons there, he posted a 43-15-1 record, coached in three bowl games, and led the Mustangs to two Southwest Conference championships. His 1982 team finished No. 2 in the AP poll.

He also ran into trouble, however.

Collins was SMU’s head coach when the program received the NCAA’s death penalty for paying players. The payments had started under Collins’ predecessor Ron Meyer and led to SMU being put on probation. They continued on Collins’ watch, which led the NCAA to hand out its most severe sanction ever.

SMU’s 1987 and 1988 football seasons were canceled, and severe scholarship reductions continued until 1990, among other penalties.

Collins was not sanctioned by the NCAA for his role in the scandal, but he never coached again.

Collins later returned to Southern Miss to work as a fundraiser for the athletic department and continued in that role well into the last decade. He was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.