By JIMMY WIGFIELD
THEODORE — Theodore High School coach Eric Collier is leaving a football program he built into one of the state’s best but his shocked players and coaches vowed Thursday it will continue to thrive.
Collier, 54, is resigning to become the director of football development on University of South Alabama coach Kane Wommack’s staff, sources told the Call News.
Collier could not directly address his new job, leaving it to USA to announce officially, but he broke the news of his departure in a meeting with his players Thursday morning.
“I went in there and told them, ‘I’ve got 28 years in and I’m at the point in my life where I want to do something different,’” Collier said. “When you’re 54 years old, you’ve got to set up your wife and kids for the rest of their lives.
“I was emotional and the players were too. They all bought into the things I wanted to do. I love that place. The parents and the community trusted me with their kids for 15 years and that doesn’t happen a lot. But I know it is time to try something different.”
Highly recruited Bobcats linebacker and safety Bobby Pruitt, who has 27 Division I offers, somberly noted he will return for his senior year without Collier on the field for the first time in his life.
“I’ve been with coach Collier since I was like 6 or 7 years old,” Pruitt said. “I call him my second daddy. It hurt me that he’s going to leave but I understand it. It’s a business decision and he’s got to take care of his family.
“He taught me how to be a man, how to grind and work, to keep my grades straight, that attitude will take me a long way.”
Theodore assistant coach Jeff Stanley said Collier’s stamp on the program will endure.
“I told the guys he’s still gonna be out here on Friday nights and probably still be busting your butts on the sideline,” Stanley said. “He created a standard and the standard stays. We’ve got to uphold that.”
Collier started his head coaching career with six straight losing seasons spread over four years at Alma Bryant and his first two at Theodore but hasn’t had one since and has taken the Bobcats to six straight playoff appearances.
Theodore won three region championships in the last five seasons as Collier entrenched the Bobcats as one the state’s best programs. Their 33-5 record in the last three seasons is the best three-year span in school history.
“We’re going to make sure it will stay the same,” Pruitt said. “We’re not going to drop off. It’s some huge shoes to fill but we’re going to be all right. We want to make him proud.”
In 2022, Collier coached Theodore to a school-record 13 wins and into the semifinals for the first time before losing to eventual Class 6A state champion Saraland 21-6. But the Bobcats gave the Spartans their only loss a month earlier, 27-26.
Saraland coach Jeff Kelly — who split four games against Collier since 2020 in a budding rivalry — said he was surprised to learn of Collier’s departure.
“I know he was in a good situation, a good place at Theodore, and built a tremendous program,” Kelly said. “He’s a guy who’s been in this business a long time and he’s got the connections and the experience to do a good job.
“Over the last three years, we had some tremendous battles. You could always count on his teams to be physical and play extremely hard and you knew it would be a tough challenge. You knew win, lose or draw both teams would come out of it sore the next morning. He had a great career there and I wish him all the best.”
Collier — who was 71-41 in 10 seasons at Theodore — developed 82 college signees and 33 all-state players there, including Alabama All-American linebacker C.J. Mosley, Alabama and Colorado linebacker Demouy Kennedy and Florida running back La’Mical Perine. Mosley and Perine made it to the NFL.
“La’Mical and Mosley came through here and they’re in the big leagues,” Pruitt said. “I want to be on that wall.”
Collier said getting the Theodore job changed him for the better because he became devoted to making sure his players had a future in or out of football.
“When I got there 15 years ago, I thought football was all about X’s and O’s,” he said. “Being at Theodore helped me understand and taught me the lesson that it is about the relationships and loving those kids and taking care of those kids. It helped me mature as a coach.
“I’m letting God do the work. I’m going to be obedient. I’ve prayed on it and I’ve got peace with it. The only problem is leaving Theodore. I’ve been thinking about all the kids I’ve coached, kids you know you helped change their lives. I hate leaving these kids and the community. The Theodore community has been good to me.”
Collier served as the Bobcats’ defensive coordinator under his former Alba High teammate Bill Meredith for four years before being named Theodore’s head coach in 2013.
Collier played under R.L. Watson at Alba and has long been influenced by Watson’s brand of discipline and proclivity to run the ball and play strong run defense, which Collier used to push the Bobcats to new heights.
Collier and Watson’s son, Todd, played together at Alba and are now college coaches. Todd Watson is the special assistant to Alabama coach Nick Saban.
Collier was part of the first staff at Alma Bryant which went 12-1 under coach Rush Propst in the program’s first season in 1998. He began his coaching career at Alba before it merged with Mobile County High School in Grand Bay to form Bryant. Collier was 10-30 in four years as the Hurricanes’ coach.
Collier graduated from South Alabama and he and his wife Sanna have four sons.