So much for a quiet offseason as Georgia Southern transitions to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The week started with the program’s boosters learning that higher donations would be required for various parking privileges and other gameday perks. Just two days later, one of the justifications for higher prices became blazingly apparent, when it was learned that head coach Jeff Monken is one of the candidates for the Army job.
Where to start?
The market dictates what a coach is worth, so if another institution is willing to pay more to lure a coach away from a program, then you’d better be willing (and able) to compete, salary-wise.
It’s no coincidence that the programs that bring in the most money get the best coaches, and over a large enough sample size, win the most games.
There’s no “Moneyball” approach to winning in major college football. If you can’t pay a coach his market-dictated worth, somebody else will. If you can’t afford to build top-notch facilities and provide a great gameday experience to lure top players to your program, they’ll go somewhere else.
But here’s the rub, in a chicken/egg kind of way. If you can’t provide fans with what they want on Saturdays in the fall, they won’t buy the product. And if fans aren’t buying the product, well, by definition, that’s a program going in the wrong direction.
Right now, Georgia Southern is asking its fans to “Join the Journey” without the fans knowing what kind of success the Eagles will have in the FBS. So what comes first? Winning, or the fan base buying in? Do you have to win in order to bring in more money, or do you have to bring in more money in order to win?
Georgia Southern is in an interesting spot. First and foremost, GSU is a program that actually has done more with less, albeit at a lower division of college football. The Eagles are the most successful Football Championship Subdivision program ever, and their athletic budget over the years has barely competed with other Southern Conference schools, let alone the top of the FCS and the mid-major FBS programs. In other words, GSU fans have pretty much always gotten massive returns with very little investment.
So nobody could blame Paul Johnson for leaving GSU in 2001 for seven figures, and Navy got its money’s worth. Navy fans want to beat Army and win Bowl games, and Johnson did both. Beating Notre Dame was just a huge layer of icing on the cake. And Johnson rode that success to a job at Georgia Tech.
Monken’s stock is pretty high right now. He went 7-3 in the FCS playoffs over three years, and the win over Florida this season certainly didn’t hurt. It’s no surprise that Army, which already runs the option like all of the service academies, would be at least mildly interested in courting Monken.
At the moment, there are a lot of behind-closed-doors questions circling the Eagle Nation. Is Monken Army’s first choice? Can they pay him enough to lure him away from a program on the rise? How interested in the job is Monken?
There are a lot of reasons for Monken to stay at Georgia Southern. The program has done everything it can to take care of Monken and his assistants. While the FBS future of the program is largely unknown, the amount of potential for the Eagles — a program with a rabid fan base, in a hotbed of high school talent, with a nearly unmatched history of winning — is undeniable.
But you could hardly blame the man for leaving GSU, either. In just four years, he’s done a lot for the program. All you have to do is look at the record books, the future conference affiliation and the construction at Paulson Stadium. Obviously, President Brooks Keel and athletics director Tom Kleinlein are largely responsible for two-thirds of that equation, but Monken’s influence and involvement in those processes are undeniable. He would certainly be leaving the program better than he found it.
Maybe it is time to move on.
Either way, it’s a sign of the times at GSU. If fans don’t open their wallets and buy in, there will be a sustained coaching carousel — successful coaches will leave for bigger opportunities and unsuccessful ones will be shown the door.
On the other hand, if fans are willing and able to pay a premium for gameday amenities, buy pavers, lockers and bollards at the new Paulson Stadium Football Operations Center, and keep showing up to games on Saturday, the coffers will start to fill up and the GSU job will start to become a destination, rather than a pit stop.
In the short term, we’ll have to wait and see if it is a destination or a pit stop for Monken.
And if he's Army's guy.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.