Within a matter of hours after the United States Military Academy announced that Georgia Southern head football coach Jeff Monken is going to be the next coach at Army, GSU officials held a press conference to address the coaching search on Tuesday afternoon at Paulson Stadium’s Bishop Field House.
Athletics director Tom Kleinlein said he has already begun taking phone calls from potential candidates and has begun the search for the next coach of the Eagles. He said that interest in the job was higher than it’s ever been, in large part because of the program’s transition into the Football Bowl Subdivision Sun Belt Conference in 2014.
“You have an opportunity to come to our school and be the first-ever coach to win an FBS championship, to win the first-ever FBS Bowl game, and do things that have never been done at this institution,” Kleinlein said.
Georgia Southern won all six of its Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) national titles while running the spread-option offense, and ran a variation of the scheme every season since joining Division I in 1984, with the exception of 2006-09.
Kleinlein said GSU’s past traditions would factor heavily into the decision of who will take over the program.
“The option, the school buses, everything that we do, is something that person needs to understand and needs to embrace,” Kleinlein said. “Now, does that mean they need to come in here and do all of those things? I’m going to leave that up to him. I know, when I sit down and talk to him, that if we’re not doing some of those things, he better have a really good reason why.”
Kleinlein focused more on GSU’s offensive philosophy than the system. He used an example from the Eagles’ 49-35 win over Old Dominion in the 2012 quarterfinals.
“If you’d have asked coaches across the country, ‘What play would you call on 3rd-and-5, down by a touchdown, when you need to win the game?’ I don’t think anybody would have said, ‘Fullback dive.’ Here, because of our culture, because of our head coach, and because of our head coach putting people in place to be successful, that’s what we did,” Kleinlein said. “That’s the key to finding a head coach. Finding a guy who can come in here, figure out what we do well, figure out what we’re not very good at, and formulating a plan to put them in a place to be successful. That’s what we’re going to do.”
Kleinlein said he would consider current assistant coaches on GSU’s staff in the interview process, and that he hasn’t discussed with Monken whether or not any GSU assistants will join Monken at Army.
Kleinlein also said that retaining any current assistant coaches will be up to the new head coach.
“By no means do I want to box someone in to making a decision they’re not comfortable with,” Kleinlein said. “At the same time, we have a staff of people here who understand the culture, they understand this place and are some really good coaches. Part of my job is to educate the candidates of what we do here. Part of that will be to educate him what I feel our current coaches’ strengths and weaknesses are to help evaluate if they're going to be a part of our staff.”
According to a USA Today article from 2012, Sun Belt head coaches’ salaries range from $250,000 per year to $859,610 per year. Kleinlein said the new coach would be offered a competitive salary.
“I feel like we’re going to put together a package before we step into the Sun Belt that’s going to allow us to be competitive with some of the people in the Sun Belt,” he said.
GSU President Brooks Keel, who also spoke at the press conference, said that the university’s goal is ultimately to be able to compete with pay scales of schools at Army’s level.
“We’re simply not positioned to be able to compete with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that Army presented, at this time,” Keel said. “Give us five years, and we’ll be there. That’s the commitment that we have, and I know Eagle Nation is going to be behind us. That’s the journey that we’re on.”
Kleinlein said he made Monken a counter-offer before Monken made the decision to leave for Army, but didn’t offer specifics.
No hard deadline was given for the hiring of a new coach.
“When I find the best guy,” Kleinlein said. “That’s my time line.”
During the coaching search, GSU associate athletic director Jeff Blythe will be in charge of the football program’s day-to-day operations.
Keel said he will be heavily involved in the process for finding Monken’s replacement.
“The buck literally stops at my desk,” Keel said. “It doesn’t go any further.”
Keel addressed the rumors of candidates for the job.
Among the names that have been speculated are former GSU defensive coordinator and Vanderbilt assistant head coach Brent Pry, current GSU assistants Brent Davis and Mitch Ware, Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper and even former GSU head coach Mike Sewak, the offensive line coach at Georgia Tech.
“The only rumor I haven’t heard is that I’m going to be the next coach at Georgia Southern,” Keel joked.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.