After a failed stint as an ACU assistant coach, Ken Collums wasn’t about to go back. His best friend, brother-in-law and fellow University of Central Arkansas coach Chris Thomsen had been offered the head coaching gig. Thomsen wanted to bring Collums with him as his offensive coordinator.
“He took this job, and I told him it was crazy,” Collums said. “I thought you couldn’t win here; that’s how sick I was.”
Seven years after that conversation Collums is the new ACU head coach. On December 16th, Thomsen left to take an assistant coach’s position at Arizona St. One week later, Collums was hired to replace him.
For two years in the late 1990s Thomsen and Collums coached together at ACU – Thomsen as offensive coordinator and Collums as quarterbacks/wide receivers coach. After back-to-back 4-6 seasons, both were fired.
“I said ‘There is a 95 percent chance I’m not going with you to ACU, bro,” Collums said. “If you want to go commit career suicide, then do it. I’m still going to love you, and I’ll help you when you’re done.'”
Still, a week later, Collums decided to come back with Thomsen to coach the Wildcats.
“Through the course of that week, God changed my heart and I started to see the possibilities instead of the challenges,” Collums said. “I knew it was the right thing to do because God put it in my heart.”
What Collums didn’t know was what kind of success ACU would have. In fact, his goal coming into the 2005 season was to win just enough games not to get fired again.
In that 2005 season, Thomsen and Collums again tallied just four wins, but this time they did it with a different approach to coaching.
“We wanted to take coaching and do it in a radically different way from society and from normal coaching,” Collums said. “We had talked for years about running a program that will honor God. The No. 1 thing that we wanted to do when we walk in is showing these guys what being a Christian man is all about.”
Thomsen and Collums figured that if they made that the goal of the program, then God would surely bless them. The blessings started to show in the 2006 season. That year, ACU made the playoffs for the first time since going Division II, and although they lost in the first round, it was a start for the two coaches.
“In ’06 our guys bought in to what we were doing,” Collums said. “In that entire year, we lost only one fumble. When you stop losing fumbles, you know your guys have bought in. We had to fight for those wins, but after that the thing just took off.”
Since that season, ACU has yet to miss the playoffs and has established itself as one of the premiere Div. II football schools in the nation. Thomsen and Collums set numerous offensive records while coaching future NFL stars Bernard Scott, Johnny Knox, Edmond Gates and Danieal Manning.
The stats for Collums speak for themselves. In seven seasons as the offensive coodinator, he ran an offense that ranked in the top seven in the nation five times. In 2010, he was the FootballScoop.com D2 Coordinator of the Year. Perhaps the most impressive stat took place in the 2007 season. That year the Wildcats became the first team in NCAA history to boast a 3,500-yard passer (Billy Malone), a 2,000-yard rusher (Scott) and two 1,000-yard receivers (Knox and Jerale Baden).
What doesn’t show up on the stat sheet though is what Collums and the rest of the staff are working to instill in the players off the field. In Collums’ mind, he and the players are fighting the same battle.
“I’m going to demand the best out of them everyday. I don’t give a dang what it is, if its on the field of off the field. As a man, it’s my job to get the best out of them as men,” Collums said. “These guys are going to see that I am a guy doing life with them; I just happen to be their head coach.”
Seven years ago, Collums was just trying to win enough not to get fired. Now his goal is to cement ACU’s place among college football’s elite with a national championship, a game ACU hasn’t won since the 1977 season. Even if it doesn’t happen though, Collums knows that something bigger is happening at ACU.
“If we don’t win, it’ll be disappointing, but there is a lot more to this thing than football,” Collums said. “There is way more that goes on in these halls. That’s one of the exciting things that keeps you coming to work is the impact that you have on these guys.”
Mixing faith and football is something ACU offers that most other college football programs don’t, and Collums knows that is to his advantage. It was part of his new vision for the Wildcats when he took over as offensive coordinator in 2005, and it has carried over to his new role as head coach.
“We feel like this is the most unique college football experience in the country,” Collums said. “You can come here and win and play legit football, and then grow as a man and understand and learn about how to have a relationship and have a family later in life. You can’t get that anywhere else.”
“It’s those two ingredients, winning and growing, that make this a dynamic and unique situation. I’m just fortunate to be the head coach here.”