New Wittenberg football coach calls it a ‘dream job’

Jim Collins and AD Brian Agler have goals beyond winning conference championships

The new head football coach at Wittenberg University will walk the same sideline as Bill Edwards and Dave Maurer, both members of the College Football Hall of Fame whose names now adorn the stadium in Springfield. Of course, no name looms larger in Wittenberg history this century than Joe Fincham.

Jim Collins, a 1988 Wittenberg graduate, replaces a coach who shares the same page in the record book with Knute Rockne and Urban Meyer, two of the other top-25 winningest coaches in college football history.

Wittenberg announced the hiring of Collins four days after it announced Fincham’s retirement. The news of the hiring broke Monday night. This will be the fourth head coaching job for Collins, who has spent time at the University of Dubuque in Iowa (1994-96), Capital University (1997-2007) in Bexley and Saginaw Valley State University (2008-18) in Michigan. He has a career record of 135-133.

“These are big shoes to fill, going all the way back to Bill Edwards,” Collins said on a Zoom press conference. “But I’m passionate about what I do, and we’re going to have a great plan. I understand Wittenberg and the standards we need in order to have success here. At the end of the day, what it comes down to is having a plan and a vision and a relentless work ethic to see that vision get played out.”

Fincham had a career record of 224-51 in 25 seasons. He has not commented publicly on why he chose to retire Thursday, and he was not quoted in the university’s press release.

Collins said he had not talked to Fincham since accepting the job.

“Hopefully, coach Fincham and I can meet sometime soon,” he said. “I would love to pick his brain about the people on this team and personnel and let him share his insight into where we are right now and go from there.”

Late in his 11-year tenure at Capital University, Collins coached against Fincham and Wittenberg five times, winning all five games: four in the regular season (2004-07) and one in the 2006 playoffs. That was the best four-year stretch for Capital this century as it won 36 games and the low point for Wittenberg, which won 29 games during the same four seasons.

“I’ve had a lot of our Capital alums and former players on those teams call me and tell me they’re their big Wittenberg fans now,” Collins said. “We had some really good teams at Capitol. I can’t tell you how emotional it was for me when we came over here to play, and that was the first time obviously I’ve been back on that field. What I remember is those Capital teams we had were special teams, and it was it was just an honor and a privilege to coach those guys.”

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Collins had a record of 66-51 in 11 seasons at Capital. He was named the Ohio Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in 2001, 2003 and 2006. The program has enjoyed one winning season in the 14 seasons since he left for Saginaw Valley State.

Collins was 4-26 in three seasons at Dubuque and 65-56 in 11 seasons at Saginaw Valley State in Michigan. He led Saginaw to the NCAA Division II playoffs in 2009, 2011 and 2013. Collins worked last season as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Dayton. That followed a one-year stint as director of player personnel at Army in 2019.

Collins will take over a program that won 14 North Coast Athletic Conference championships in Fincham’s 25 seasons. The Tigers finished 7-3 in each of Fincham’s last two seasons.

Wittenberg Athletic Director Brian Agler introduced Collins during the press conference Tuesday and talked about the program having goals beyond conference championships.

“Winning a conference championship is extremely important,” Agler said. “We have a high regard for our our competition within the NCAC. That’s the first stepping stone in having a great program and it always will be.”

At the same time, Agler believes a number of Wittenberg sports, including football, can compete at the national level. Wittenberg reached the national quarterfinals four times (1998, 2000, 2001 and 2009) under Fincham. The program won two national championships during the playoff era (1973 and 1975) and two championships during the poll era (1962 and 1964).

Collins has embraced the challenge of getting Wittenberg back to that level.

“When Brian called to ask me if I was interested in the job here at Wittenberg, I practically jumped through the phone with excitement,” Collins said. “To me, this is my dream job — and not just because I’m an alum. First of all, the prestige of the education that you receive here at Wittenberg is special. But as Brian talked about, this is one of the most storied programs in all of college football — from Division I right through Division III. When you see all the national championship trophies, the conference championship trophies, the All-American plaques and the list of legendary coaches starting with Bill Edwards and Dave Maurer and Ron Murphy, Doug Neibuhr, Joe Fincham, it can’t help but give you goosebumps to think about what an awesome responsibility it is to lead this program.”

Collins, a graduate of Summit Country School in Cincinnati, led Wittenberg in receiving from 1985-87 and was named team MVP in his senior season. He was an accounting major when he enrolled at Wittenberg but got hooked on coaching while taking Maurer’s coaching football class.

“It was really was through my experience here as a football player that I became interested in becoming a football coach,” Collins said, “but I remember growing up and my mother had bought me Vince Lombardi’s, ‘Run to Daylight,’ and in the back of that book were diagrams of football plays. I was just intrigued by it all, so I always felt like I had it in my blood, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it.”

Collins’ first job out of college was at Campbell’s Soup. He said he had a great experience, but the whole time he was there, he was telling his wife Brooke, a fellow member of Wittenberg’s 1988 class, he wanted to be a football coach.

“I talked to coach Maurer and talked to coach (Ron) Murphy,” Collins said, “and went on a course completely different. Man, I don’t regret that decision. It’s been an awesome 30 years now and I’m excited about the future.”

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