Thanks to the modern marvel that is the Internet, you all have probably heard the news by now – Georgia Southern just took the world’s biggest mulligan.
That’s right, in the last four years, the Eagles have gone from an option running, high-octane perennial playoff contender, to “There is no option” (other than a 3-8 record), to the “Hatch Attack.”
Now, once again, there is an option.
Jeff Monken has quietly gone about his business the past 12 years, coaching Paul Johnson’s slotbacks at GSU, Navy and, most recently, Georgia Tech.
Now, selected from a pool of one, he will be the eighth head football coach in the modern era of Eagle football.
Unfortunately, due to two, patchwork recruiting sessions, two different offensive systems involving something called “shotgun,” two losing seasons and a bunch of players brought in offensively to participate in a “passing game,” Monken won’t exactly be picking up where Mike Sewak left off in 2005.
So yeah, the Eagles are taking a mulligan, but now they have to use a putter to tee off.
I’ve seen enough Hambone in my day to be able to yell “Pitch!” at the quarterback a split second before he gets drilled, only to watch a slotback turn a five-yard loss into a 30-yard gain.
I remember being nervous any time the Eagles threw the ball even though the receiver had nobody defending him in the same area code.
I remember when a fullback rushing for 110 yards and two touchdowns was a bad day.
I’ve seen the system work, and when it does, it’s a thing of beauty.
But let’s get back down to earth for a second.
As far as offenses go, for my money, there’s nothing better than what Monken knows, and nobody better to learn it from than Paul Johnson. Still, anybody who knows the first thing about college football will tell you that you need consistency, experience and players who know the system well enough to execute it with their eyes closed.
You need kids who are good enough to be on the field with the other team, or the system – equalizing or not – will not put up the wins. And you need a coach who knows how to put the system in play, who knows when to call a timeout, who knows when to go for it on fourth down, who knows when to decline a penalty, who knows when to have his players hitting the books, hitting the buffet line and hitting each other on the practice field.
I’m not saying Monken’s not that guy, but there’s no evidence that he is. When you consider that Georgia Southern has never, ever hired a position coach to take over a program, it is a cause for pause.
Chris Hatcher and Brian VanGorder both had resumes that screamed success. While VanGorder has never had success as a head coach, he came in with coordinator and position coaching experience in the SEC and the NFL. Hatcher, well, his 76-12 record in Division-II speaks for itself. The guys can coach.
But they couldn’t get it done at GSU.
Monken is a gamble. Hatcher and VanGorder, believe it or not, were safe bets.
Step one for the new coach will be to surround himself with people who know what they’re doing. Names like Mitch Ware, John Pate, Greg Hill and Raymond Gross have all been tossed out there as possible assistants. And every good coach will tell you that you need good assistants around you to be successful.
Then, there are the players, who were so sold on a system under Hatcher that they played their butts off every down in 2009 and they banked their college football careers on the fact that Hatcher was turning things around.
Can they run the option?
Count me in as one who though Hatcher was heading in the right direction. APR was shooting up, morale was high and the kids he was bringing in were, on paper, a very good fit. Whether or not he was going to be successful at GSU is a question that will never be answered.
Now, GSU’s future is banked on a man who has never been a head coach before. It worked with Erk Russell, it worked with Paul Johnson and, considering what’s happened since he was dismissed, it worked with Mike Sewak.
There’s no way to know how 2010 will play out on the field, but what Monken needs is support and the willingness of Eagle Nation to wait if a turnaround doesn’t happen overnight. Georgia Southern, for once, needs to see this thing through.
So, despite my skepticism, you can count me in as one who is looking forward to yelling “Pitch!” at just the right time along with everyone else.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.