Class of 2017
BEFORE HIS TIME: Kollar established MSU defensive line tradition early on
Before he was coaching some of the most physically talented players to ever grace a football field, Bill Kollar was blowing past jaw-dropped offensive linemen himself.
These days, Kollar is a coveted mastermind who has coached two of the NFL’s top position groups over the last eight seasons. Kollar spent six seasons as the defensive line coach for the Houston Texans, helping mentor All-Pros like J.J. Watt and Mario Williams. In 2012, the Montana State alum helped mold Watt into the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. During the 2014 season, the Texans wracked up 44 sacks, setting a franchise record.
Kollar spent an off-season mentoring one of the most polarizing yet talented players to enter the NFL in recent memory. Houston drafted South Carolina phenom Jadaveon Clowney with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Before the 2015 season, Kollar reunited with longtime colleague Gary Kubiak, taking a similar position with the Denver Broncos. In the Mile High City, he helped mentor future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware while also working with menacing rush linebacker Von Miller as the Broncos surged all the way to the Super Bowl title.
“I wish I could spend more time with him because he’s a guru,” former MSU defensive line coach Bo Beck, who spent a few weeks learning from the Texans coaching staff during the spring of 2012, said in an interview in 2014. “He has worked with the best of the best and he has clout because he was the best.”
Kollar was once nearly as dominant as the men he mentors. Back in the early 1970s, former Montana State and current Idaho State head coach Mike Kramer was an offensive linemen for the Idaho Vandals. As a sophomore in 1972, Kramer tried to prepare himself to stop Kollar, one of the most disruptive forces in the Big Sky Conference. As he walked to practice on the week the Vandals were preparing to face the Bobcats, a pro scout told one of Idaho’s assistant coaches that he’d timed Kollar at 4.63 seconds in the 40-yard dash at 267 pounds.
“I thought, ‘Oh no’. Then, that Saturday, I never touched him,” Kramer said. “He had absolute raw speed. He was so darn fast.”
The legendary Montana State defensive linemen is still considered to be one of the best players in school history. His No. 77 hands atop Bobcat Stadium, one of four retired numbers in school history. In 1973, Kollar earned All-America accolades and was selected for the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game. In 2014, he was enshrined in the Senior Bowl Hall of Fame, commemorating his 1974 MVP performance.
“He was so athletic,” said Dennis Erickson, an assistant coach at Montana State during Kollar’s playing days who went on to coach Miami to two national titles. “He created havoc along the line at all levels. He penetrated on seemingly every down and made plays all over the football field. In those days, he reminded me of Warren Sapp that I had at Miami. It was different times, but that’s how dominant he was.”
Kollar came to Montana State from Warren, Ohio. Joe Tiller, a former Montana State assistant who went on to have great success at Purdue, brought Kollar, Leon Potkay and a handful of other Ohio natives west to become Bobcats in 1970.
“I really love Montana, the openness, the mountains, the whole deal,” Kollar said. “People in Montana are really easy to get along with. The university is a great university. The people downtown, the small-town feel of it, that’s a great thing for a lot of guys that go out there and not only play football, but to be a student and grow as a man.”
His first year in Bozeman, Kollar cut his teeth on the freshmen team. He watched MSU senior Gary Gustafson earn first-team All-America honors. The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Gustafson in 1971.
“Deep down inside, I thought to myself, ‘I’d love to end up doing that someday,’” Kollar said.
By 1972, Kollar was a starter and a standout for Sonny Holland’s Bobcats. He helped lead the Bobcats to the Big Sky Conference title that season, then earned All-America honors the next.
“He had an amazing physical ability that was so far advanced from the players of that era,” said Brad Daws, an All-American selection himself for MSU in 1975. “We ran a 4-4, so I was down as much as I was up. He was right next to me. I can remember my hand coming out of my stance and Kollar already having two strides on me. And I wasn’t a slow guy. I was pretty athletic. But he had that amazing combination of quickness for his size.
“It was comical how quick he was. I could literally just play Rover because he could contain for two positions at once and still make plays.”
Kollar made enough plays to earn invites to the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine game, the two most prestigious post-season all-star games in the country. Both were right before the NFL Draft, so his outstanding performances helped his draft stock rise.
Two weeks before the NFL Draft, the upstart World Football League held its draft. The Chicago Fire picked Kollar in the first round.
Kollar was projected to be a high NFL draft pick. Because of the upstart league, the entrenched NFL sent scouts to the cities of all the picks. On the night the NFL draft, Kollar and MSU head coach Sonny Holland sat in a Bozeman hotel room with a scout from the Dallas Cowboys. When the 13th pick came up, the Detroit Lions called and told Kollar they would pick him. It didn’t happen. When the Bengals got on the clock at No. 27, Kollar was their guy.
“I was elated,” Kollar said. “The funny thing is they wanted me to fly out of Bozeman that night so the World team didn’t come in and sign me. There were no flights going back to Cincinnati that night, so I flew to Seattle and spent the night, then flew to Cincinnati in the morning. I signed two days later. They really pushed us to sign so they didn’t get in a bidding war with the new league.”
In Cincinnati, Kollar played next two All-Pro defensive tackle Mike Reid, a former Penn State standout who retired abruptly to pursue a country music career. Foot surgery hindered Kollar’s first years playing back in his home state.
In 1977, the Bengals traded Kollar to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he played his final five seasons. He went to war next to Lee Roy Selmon, a Hall of Famer who passed away in 2011.
In 1981, Kollar blew out his knee, essentially ending his playing career. The strong relationship he’d forged with Tampa Bay head coach John McKay paid dividends and kept him in football. After finishing his degree and helping out on Dave Arnold’s staff at MSU, Kollar coached special teams and helped with the defensive line on McKay’s staff in 1984. When McKay resigned, Kollar returned to the college ranks. He spent two seasons on Mike White’s at Illinois and two more on Fred Akers’ staff at Purdue.
In 1990, Jerry Glanville hired Kollar to coach the defensive line for the Atlanta Falcons. He’s been in the NFL ever since.
“The staff at MSU when I was there — Dennis Erickson, Sonny Lubick, Cliff Hysell, Don Christianson, Coach Holland — those guys, they all really worked well with the players,” Kollar said. “You’d pick up a little thing here and there that you’d like that kept going on every year. They all influenced me. Then I tried to mold myself using all the things that I really enjoyed from those guys and try to take it into my career.”
Montana State’s defensive line has a rich tradition. Gustafson was the first in a long line of All-Americans that includes Daws, Mark Fellows, Dane Fletcher and Zach Minter. Caleb Schreibeis and Brad Daly won the Buck Buchanan Award earlier this decade, setting the bar even higher. But if you ask those who saw Kollar play, the bar was set long ago.
“I don’t know if anyone touches him,” Erickson said. “He was so great at Montana State, then he dominated the Senior Bowl, then he dominated the league. He is, without question, the best defensive lineman who has played at Montana State. He was special.”
By COLTER NUANEZ
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the 2014 edition of the annual Bobcat Football Review & Preview magazine produced by FMFP Enterprises.
Colter Nuanez is the founder and senior writer at Skyline Sports, an online newsgathering multimedia organization providing comprehensive coverage of Big Sky Conference athletics. He has covered the Big Sky since 2006 and has been involved with the Montana Football Hall of Fame since 2016. He can be reached at Colter.Nuanez@gmail.com.