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Jeff Monken doesn’t really beat around the bush when you ask him a question about his Georgia Southern Eagles.
Who’s the quarterback? Jaybo Shaw.
How’s practice going? We don’t play fast enough or tough enough yet.
What are you’re expectations this year?
Ah, that’s where it gets interesting.
In 2007, Chris Hatcher inherited a program coming off the worst season in its young-but-ridiculously-successful history. He came in after the Eagles went 3-8.
When he was introduced to Statesboro as the new head guy, he answered the expectations question before anyone could even ask it.
“I hope, I plan and we will add to the six championship banners, 16 playoff appearances and the eight Southern Conference (championships), and make no mistake we will do that early,” Hatcher notoriously said at his introductory press conference in 2007.
So, three years later, after GSU went from coming within inches of a Southern Conference title to becoming a team with only the program’s third losing record in the modern era, well, to say the fan base was uneasy would be an understatement.
Hatcher promised GSU fans the world, so when things didn’t go as planned in 2008 and 2009, the bar that was set on the top notch looked really, really far away.
With that said, I don’t think it was all that bad of an entrance for Hatcher. A 3-8 record was worse than most folks thought it could ever get at GSU, so the fans needed something uplifting. They needed a reason to be excited about 2007, and the “Hatch Attack” gave them that excitement.
Sure, if he had known what would happen over the next three years, Hatcher’s optimism probably would have been a little more cautious, but who could blame him? A Harlon Hill trophy, a Division II national title and a 76-12 record coming in proved that he was a winner everywhere he’d ever been as a coach and as a player.
Hatcher gave fans a reason to believe, and Jayson Foster provided the excitement.
But Hatcher’s promises went unfulfilled for two more years after that, so he was ushered out to make way for Monken.
As Monken spoke to the Statesboro Rotary Club Monday at Forest Heights Country Club, his matter-of-fact message was clear to those in attendance.
“High expectations will not survive low standards,” he told the crowd. “We set our expectations as high as we can get them, and we push for that. We push the guys to meet those standards, and the better they get, the higher those standards will go.”
He went on to explain that the goal is to win one game at a time until they are hoisting a championship trophy for a seventh time.
“But,” he added, “before we can do that, we’re going to have to bring our team together.
“We’re going to play 11 good teams. They’re all practicing, they’re all getting ready right now, and we’ve got to be prepared for each game. We’ve got to be tougher than every team we play. We won’t be the most talented team on the field every Saturday, but I don’t think it takes the best players to win. It takes the best team to win.
“I hope you’ll see a team that plays faster and plays tougher than any team you’ve ever seen play the game. That’s my hope. … Eventually, if we can accomplish these three things — to get our team to play with toughness, humility and effort — we’re going to have the kind of success everyone’s hoping for. The kind of success we expect.”
In 2006, fans were promised by Brian VanGorder a new-look offense and a facelift on a program that wasn’t quite living up to its championship expectations.
After going 3-8, VanGorder vanished from Statesboro as quickly as he arrived.
In 2007, fans were promised the world — SoCon titles and national championship banners — and didn’t get it.
Now Monken is here.
He gets it. He knows what the fan base wants, he’s doing what he can to deliver it and he doesn’t make any bones about the pressure he is under.
But he hasn’t promised the world.
And as opposed to the un-delivered promises of facelifts, exposure, conference titles, national titles and domination, Monken’s expectations are breath of fresh air to a fan base that feels led on after four years of big words and no results.
Let’s take a page out of Monken’s book and not beat around the bush. Georgia Southern is expected to win. The Eagles are expected to dominate the SoCon and compete for national championships, and Monken knows it just as much as the fans know it.
But Monken also knows that you can’t play like a champion unless you learn to practice like one. And teaching the Eagles how to practice like champions on and off the field is one promise that needs to be kept before GSU ever wins another ring.
Let's hope they’re on their way.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.