If he needs guidance or advice in his first collegiate head coaching job, Jeff Monken has expert assistance readily available.
The first-year Georgia Southern University coach is the son of a longtime high school football coach. Before he returned to the banks of Beautiful Eagle Creek, he sought the counsel of former Georgia Southern coaches Paul Johnson and Mike Sewak.
“I consulted with both of them and asked their opinion quite a bit, tell me about this, tell me about that,” Monken said. “They were both very
Monken coached under Johnson from 1997-2001 at Georgia Southern and followed the spread option mastermind to Navy and then to Georgia Tech. Sewak was offensive line coach during Johnson’s tenure at Georgia Southern before being promoted to the top spot. Sewak also joined Johnson’s staff at Tech and is co-offensive line coach there now.
While he asked their advice about the situation at Georgia Southern, Monken wasn’t sure just what he would hear from Johnson and Sewak.
“I was thinking maybe one of them would talk me out of it,” he said. “They both said it’s a great job and you’ve got a chance to win there. I’ve always wanted to be a head coach. I figured out I wanted the job.”
Monken also has called upon Johnson and Sewak, asking their advice on how to handle various things that crop up for a head coach.
“And they’ve been very helpful,” he said. “I’ve continued to call them and ask them.”
Monken, Johnson and Sewak were on the offensive staff together at Hawaii, before Monken eventually moved to Buffalo and Sewak went to Ohio University. Johnson brought them back together after he was named head coach at GSU in late 1996.
In five years as head coach at Georgia Southern, Johnson was 62-10, with two national championships and a national runner-up finish. Sewak was head coach for the four subsequent seasons, posting a 35-14 mark and a national semifinal finish. During that span, the Eagles made the then I-AA playoffs.
But when Sewak was dismissed, the Eagles got away from their vaunted and familiar triple option offense. Since then, Georgia Southern is 21-23 with no playoff appearances.
“I know the expectations in Statesboro,” Monken said. “I know the tradition and the history. I’m trying my best not to concern myself with how many games we’ll win or how fast we’ll win a championship. I don’t know if we’ll win a championship. I don’t know if we’ll win a game next year.”
That led to Monken’s hire last November. The longtime assistant carries with him a strong recommendation from Johnson.
“I think Jeff feels like he’s been ready,” Johnson said. “He’s excited to have the job. I’m happy for him. It’s something he’s wanted to do. I think he’ll do a good job.”
Monken had been slotbacks and special teams coach for Johnson at GSU, Navy and Tech. Georgia Southern was Johnson’s first college head coaching job, too, after a successful career as an assistant. Johnson was offensive coordinator — he implemented Georgia Southern’s signature option offense — for the first two of the Eagles’ six national championships.
“I told him that at one time it was probably the best I-AA job in the country,” Johnson said what he told Monken. “They’ve got stuff in place they should be good. They’ve got no reason to lose there.”
In the last four season, the Eagles have had two of the three losing seasons they’ve recorded since the program was restarted nearly 28 years ago. It’s also 10 years since the last national championship. It’s also been six seasons since Southern has won at least a share of the Southern Conference title. In that span, SoCon rival Appalachian State has won three national championships.
Monken isn’t conceding the league title to any of his competitors, even with the rebuilding task ahead of him.
“I’m going to coach our guys like it’s our championship to lose,” he said. “You have to coach that way. Our expectations are at the highest level. We’re not going to be satisfied with anything less.”