WEST POINT, N.Y. >> When Jeff Monken arrived for his interview during Army’s coaching search, he brought with him impressive credentials, an offensive mindset, and a driven determination.
He also knew exactly what to say and when to say it.
“What you will find with Jeff is that there aren’t a whole lot of details that he doesn’t already know the answer to,” Black Knights athletic director Boo Corrigan said. “He understands what this is. He didn’t come here not to win.”
Even though he has a lot of work ahead of him to reach that point.
A week after his hire, Monken, a former graduate assistant at the University of Hawaii, was formally introduced as Army’s new coach on Monday. He is the 37th coach of the Black Knights, and inherits a program that went 3-9 this season, ending the campaign with a 34-7 loss to Navy.
Monken arrives at West Point from Georgia Southern, an FCS program where he went 38-16 in four seasons. The Eagles will join the Sun Belt Conference next year and be members of FBS thanks in part to Monken’s efforts. He won at least 10 games in each of their first three seasons there, and was a finalist for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year award in 2012.
“As we went through that process, we established a number of tenants who we thought were best fit for this job,” Corrigan said. “We were looking for an understanding and appreciation of West Point. We were looking for someone with the ability to inspire. We were looking for someone who had an established tradition of winning and, an insatiable advocate to recruit.
“There was one person who kept coming up.”
Army ended the season on a five-game losing streak, and lost both of its games vs. other service academies, including a 42-28 defeat at Air Force. The Black Knights’ victories came against Morgan State, Louisiana Tech, and Eastern Michigan.
“We’ve already begun the process of recruiting and have reached out to young men all over the country who I know will be honored to join this program and get Army football back to national prominence,” Monken said. “We will give all of our cadets and the men and women who serve a team they can be proud of.
“Go Army and we will beat Navy.”
Monken will carry on the famed offensive tradition with Army — and that is to run the football … plenty. At Georgia Southern, his team led the NCAA in rushing in 2012 (399.36 yards per game). In 2011, the Eagles were ranked No. 1 in the FCS polls for seven weeks.
“There is nobody here that will have higher expectations for our team and our performance than me. Nobody’s going to put more pressure on me than me. I want to win,” he said. “I don’t take kindly to anything else. Second place is no fun for anybody. We’ve got 4,400 cadets here that we’re going to send off as military officers and when they go out, we don’t expect them to come in second.
“So that’s not going to be an option around here either.”
Monken was an assistant for Paul Johnson at both Navy and Georgia Tech, so his reliance on the run game — and Johnson’s option system — was cultivated with the Midshipmen and Yellow Jackets.
“The under-center stuff that we do is going to be very similar to what you see Paul Johnson doing at Georgia Tech. Paul was a master of using different formations and running the same plays out of different formations,” he said. “(But) over the years, we felt like there were times when defenses would stymie us under center. We needed to have something to go to that would give us some different angles. What more traditional teams are doing with the shotgun option are some of the things that we’ll do as well.”
While at Navy, Monken was part of a Midshipmen program that won five straight Commander in Chief trophies — given to the service academy with the better record in head-to-head competition against the other two — and won 10 games in 2004.
“I hoped that I would have a chance to coach at a service academy again,” he said. “I told my wife about five weeks ago when something came up, I said ‘I need to go coach at a service academy again and not have to worry about these kids.’ I kind of said it offhanded, but I’ve always felt an incredible sense of connection to the service academies.”
Monken, 46, is a native of Joliet, Ill., and played wide receiver at Millikin University, a Division III school in Decatur, Ill. On Nov. 23, in perhaps the game that sealed his status as one of the offseason’s most marketable coaches, he led Georgia Southern to a 26-20 victory over Florida in Gainesville.
“This is a self-driven man,” Corrigan said, “that takes as much pride in what he does that it made him appealing to us.”