A contrite Jeff Monken accepted responsibility on Tuesday for a football recruiting trip that happened a month after he was hired as head coach at Army and resulted in minor NCAA violations.
"Everything that happens in this program is my responsibility. It was wrong," Monken said. "I'm disappointed it happened. I don't like having my reputation and my name dirtied. I didn't come to West Point thinking that I'm just going to change my ideals, my integrity and win at all costs."
The recruiting excursion Jan. 25 also resulted in the disciplining of 20 cadets, two officers and two coaches. Monken said the trip to a downstate New York mall with 14 prospective recruits was organized by staff members there before he arrived as head coach.
"We didn't have a support staff," said Monken, who was hired in late December from Georgia Southern. "In between meetings with prospects, I was interviewing coaches, just trying to get a program going."
The Gazette of Colorado Springs first reported the bus trip on Saturday, a week before Army hosts service-academy rival Air Force.
West Point officials began investigating it in March, according to an internal review by Lt. Col. Shannon Miller, who was ordered to look into the allegations. Football coaches knew about what happened on the bus trip but did not immediately tell academy leaders or the NCAA, the report said.
Academy officials said there was no officer supervision on the trip, which resulted in incidents of misconduct, including underage drinking at a bowling alley in the mall among members of the team and several recruits. Some cadets said they had seven drinks in 90 minutes.
"There were people on the bus that shouldn't have been on the bus," Monken said. "They're 20 years old. They're going to make mistakes."
According to the Gazette, the report from Lt. Col. Miller also found that two female cheerleaders were on the trip and kissed a football player and a recruit. The report also said Army football recruiters use female cadets to help sell West Point.
In February, West Point's director of football operations, Lt. Col. Chad Davis, recruited cheerleaders and members of the academy's women's basketball and volleyball teams to act as dinner dates for recruits, Miller's report said.
The academy investigation found several violations of the cadet disciplinary code and NCAA rules. Those violations included the underage drinking, inappropriate use of a police escort, misuse of NCAA recruiting host funds, cadet participation without class privileges, and failure to maintain proper cadet accountability.
"I think it's a big deal. What they did was wrong," Monken said. "It's the reputation of this academy. It's the reputation of this football program, which is a lot bigger than any of us. It's also my reputation. I have a reputation that's more important to me than any football game."
Monken said the team talked about it afterward and acknowledged it was wrong, and all involved were punished by both him and the academy. The maximum allowable punishment was given out by West Point, but the rookie coach declined to detail what his punishment was, though players involved were removed from the spring game.
Academy punishment included loss of cadet rank and opportunities for leadership positions, which have future implications.
Army public affairs officials at the Pentagon did not return an email from The Associated Press seeking comment.
"There's accountability on both sides. It was going to have to go beyond me," Monken said. "Some of them (cadets) are still serving hours for that, and it happened in January. It was the right thing to do.
"There's no scandal to report. We dealt with it all spring. Think it's coincidental it happened this week? I don't worry about it. It was a distraction in January. It's over and done with."
Monken described a recruiting weekend at West Point, which typically begins on a Friday and ends Sunday. It includes two dinners on campus, a bowling and pizza party and ice cream sundae bar, a tour of the campus and football facilities, a rundown of academics and opportunities in the military after graduation, and a three-hour bus excursion to a nearby mall.
"We were organizing that trip for entertainment. I don't think that's out of line with what other people do on recruiting weekends," Monken said.