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Joel Collier Director of Pro Personnel

By Matthew Tabeek

"This whole structure here – the positivity, the energy, then with Thomas and Scott’s background of accountability and attention to detail. The energy just feels a lot different. It was kind of refreshing when I walked in the door here."

Joel Collier was born into a football family. And the countless coaches and players who surrounded him growing up were in many ways like his extended family.

Football really is in his DNA.

And keep in mind that Collier, the Falcons’ director of pro personnel, isn’t the son of just any football coach, either.

His father is Joe Collier, the former Buffalo Bills head coach, who is best known for his time as an assistant coach and defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos from 1969 to 1988 and is considered to be the architect of the “Orange Crush” defense of the late 1970s.

And while Collier’s father was helping guide the Broncos to multiple Super Bowl appearances, he was right in the middle of it all as a kid, even serving as one of the Broncos’ training camp ball boys for five years.

Looking back, Collier says that he “kind of lucked out” with his father being an institution in Denver for two decades. After all, it’s extremely rare for a coach’s child to go from kindergarten to their senior year of high school in the same school district, like Collier did.

“In a way, you become a football brat, like Army brats, because in this business there’s so much moving around,” Collier said.

Even though so many coaches – and their families – would eventually come and go, that was the nature of the profession. Regardless, there was just something about coaches, even at an early age, that made an impression on Collier.

“It wasn’t so much that the game was in me, but it was the relationships that I saw that my dad had – especially with coaching staffs, secondarily with the players – and I was impressed with the integrity of the people in coaching,” Collier said. “Coaches tell it like it is. And I enjoyed that kind of personality and as a kid, I just gravitated toward that. And it was tons of fun being around the players, too.”

In short, football people were his people.

After 22 years Collier suddenly wanted to ‘move far away from football’

Not surprisingly, Collier played football in high school, went on to play linebacker at the University of Northern Colorado and earned his degree.

Then Collier went in a completely different direction.

“I went totally the opposite (from what everyone around him expected),” Collier said. “I wanted to move as far away from football at that point. Looking back, I don’t even know why I felt that way. For 22 years I had been around football and I guess maybe my soul just wanted a break.”

Collier enrolled in some graduate classes at Metropolitan State University of Denver, still trying to figure out what exactly he wanted to do. Then it hit him: he wanted to get into journalism.

“I’ve always been jokingly told that I have a great face for radio,” said Collier, who then researched some journalism programs before starting at the University of Colorado in Boulder. But it wasn’t long before Collier found himself wandering over to Buffaloes’ football practice fields every so often, too.

He missed football. Or as he put it, “the itch started to show up again.”

Collier went back and talked about it with his father. They came up with a solution: a graduate assistantship where he could combine the two – get into coaching and pursue a journalism degree concurrently. Collier eventually landed at Syracuse University as a football grad assistant and enrolled in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, one of the best journalism programs in the country.

Collier was a grad assistant for two years under the late and legendary Syracuse coach Dick MacPherson. He also became friends with another grad assistant named Scott Pioli, who is now the Falcons’ assistant general manager.

“That graduate assistantship solved my dilemma,” Collier said. “I realized that I enjoyed journalism wholeheartedly, but I really enjoyed coaching.”

Why the attitude and energy is so different in Atlanta

Collier is now in his second season with the Falcons and brings more than 20 years of NFL experience to Atlanta. Prior to landing in Flowery Branch, Collier went from being an offensive assistant with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to most recently spending five seasons as the assistant general manager for the Kansas City Chiefs. In between, he spent time with New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins holding a number of different positions on offense, defense and in personnel.

But nothing, he says, compares to the atmosphere that general manager Thomas Dimitroff has created here in Atlanta along with Pioli and head coach Dan Quinn.

“I have not ever been in a program with this much enthusiasm daily,” Collier said. “Game day is always enthusiastic and full of energy. That’s what’s really different. … This whole structure here – the positivity, the energy, then with Thomas and Scott’s background of accountability and attention to detail. The energy just feels a lot different. It was kind of refreshing when I walked in the door here.”

Aside from the attitude and energy in Flowery Branch, Collier said it’s clear that Dimitroff has “created an organization that’s big on technology and the advancement of new ideas.”

And a lot of that comes from the scouts, Collier said.

“That’s been the biggest thing that strikes me,” Collier said. “And he’s got a whole scouting staff that’s been in place here. That turns over quite a bit in the league today. It’s diverse – there’s younger guys, older guys, they come from totally different areas.

“It’s kind of fun.”

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