"At Tech when we talk about recruiting, one of the things we talk about is character," he told the Marietta Kiwanis Club on Thursday. "It's a tough school and if they can't handle it, their eyes are about this big by the time they get to practice, so you're recruiting a different kind of kid at Georgia Tech."
Tech Coach Paul Johnson is a throwback to an earlier era, McCollum said.
"Paul is what the game stands for. There are so many coaches that are so pompous that you wonder 'How'd he get that job?' But Paul is an old-school guy that he's going to tell you the truth, regardless. He's not going to tell a recruit he's going to come and start for us. He's going to tell him he's going to come and compete and if he's good enough, he's going to play. And if a kid doesn't want to hear that, he's going to go somewhere else and we're going to say 'fine.'"
McCollum grew up in Marietta, starred as quarterback at Marietta High School under Coach Ray Broadaway and later at end for Austin Peay State University. He earned a bachelor's of science there and a master's of science degree from Middle Tennessee.
McCollum had been linebacker coach at North Carolina State since 2007 and was a scout for the NFL's Tennessee Titans in 2006. He earlier was an assistant coach at Baylor University and the University of Texas-El Paso and while at Middle Tennessee he was voted Coach of the Year in 2000 and 2001 by the Tennessee Sportswriters Association.
His family has deep roots in Marietta, and he is obviously happy to be back in town.
"I always tell the kids that everything we do you want to be as good as you can possibly be. Everything good that happened for me in my life started in Marietta," he said. "I couldn't be more proud than to say I'm from Marietta. I grew up near the Big Chicken.' Then people want to know what the Big Chicken' is. This is a special place and it's great to have an opportunity to come back home."
"I've been at Georgia Tech for four months and I haven't slowed down from 90 miles per hour," he added.
"Kids are different now. But the one thing that's not different is that they still believe in discipline. If you show a kid you care, he'll run through a wall for you. I tell them I'm an old-school coach."
McCollum doesn't put much stock in the various recruiting guides and tip sheets.
"Everybody gets caught up in recruiting," he said. "But did you know the ones who do all these publications and rank the players never even played football? They have no clue what they're doing.
As an example, he noted that when Johnson was head coach at Navy his recruiting classes were ranked dead last nearly every years.
"But do you know how many times he beat Notre Dame? Nearly every time he played 'em," McCollum said.
Tech is unique in many ways, he said.
"You look across this country and you can't name a school that's got great academics, that's got great football and that's in a great city, except for Georgia Tech. Stanford would be the closest to that you could name, and they're not that great in football. Somebody said Duke. No, I don't think so. So I tell kids they have a chance to shine in the city of Atlanta, have a chance to get a great degree. We have a lot to offer."
McCollum said it's key not to sign a great player who won't be able to succeed in the classroom. The better choice to get a good player who has common sense and can make good decisions.
"And I can't stand excuses or lazy people," he added.
McCollum then shared some rules to live by.
"When I feel too good or bad about myself, I pick this up and read it," he said. "It's called 'Winners versus Losers."
* "When a winner makes a mistake, he says, 'I was wrong.' When a loser makes a mistake, he says, 'It wasn't my fault.'
* "A winner works harder than a loser and has more time. A loser is always too busy to do what is necessary.
* "A winner goes through a problem. A loser goes around it and never gets past it.
* "A winner makes commitments; a loser makes promises.
* "A winner says, 'I'm good, but not as good as I ought to be.' A loser says, 'I'm not as bad as a lot of other people.'
* "A winner listens. A loser just waits till it's his turn to talk.
* "A winner respects those who are superior to him and tries to learn something from them. A loser resents those who are superior to him and tries to find chinks in their armor.
* "A winner feels responsible for more than his job. A loser says, 'I only work here.'
* "A winner says, 'There ought to be a better way to do it.' A loser says, 'That's the way it's always been done.'"
"If we can all make a difference in somebody's life in a positive way, I think that's what we're all supposed to be doing," McCollum concluded.
Bill Kinney is associate editor of the Marietta Daily Journal.