Emerson: Why Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken is talking to NFL teams
ATHENS, Ga. — In the best-case scenario, Todd Monken came to Georgia three years ago already on probation. He would come to Athens, modernize the offense and do well enough that in a few years the NFL would want him back and Georgia would thank him and wish him well. Worst-case scenario, well, there’s clearly nothing to worry about anymore.
Georgia is facing a first-world problem right now: they have a valuable coach whose value has been recognized enough that other people want to hire him or at least interview him. Monken can take the job with the Baltimore Ravens, with or without Lamar Jackson, or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, without Tom Brady. Or Monken can announce he’s not going anywhere and coming back to Georgia to lead the offense in the next era at quarterback and go for a hat-trick.
And then, hopefully, this time next year it’s going to be the same thing: people trying to hire Monken.
That’s how it works in football. When a team wins, people want to hire their assistants. Three years ago, if you had told Georgia fans that Monken would help the program get two national title rings, they would have accepted the trade and agreed to foot the bill for the plane ride to his next job. It’s just that Monken’s time proved so spectacular, so transformative, that makes it a potential loss for Georgia. In a short time, Monken was at least one of the top two offensive coordinators in the program. (The other is the man who could replace Monken. But more on that in case there’s an opening.)
It shouldn’t be hard to see Monken’s interest in at least thinking about a return to the NFL. It is the highest level of football. The quality of life is better for an assistant of this level. Monken had no direct connection to Georgia, and is a self-proclaimed “vagrant” who has never been in one place for more than four years, and that was over ten years ago.
Still, there’s a lot of psychoanalysis about why Monken would want to leave a comfortable job in Georgia for the instability of the NFL. But if you listened to Monken speak last month, when he had the rare chance to speak publicly, there were signs. Like when an Ohio-based writer asked him what he learned in 2019, his year-long training with the Cleveland Browns.
“Well, it’s been a really frustrating year in Cleveland,” he said. “You know, I thought Cleveland was a great opportunity. I still believe in it. I believed in why I went there – I just didn’t do a good enough job. I did a bad job with the role I had there. I very much regret the way I handled some things. We had good players and we just didn’t win enough.
Stetson Bennett, left, and Todd Monken helped Georgia win back-to-back national titles. (John Adams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
It sounded like someone who might have felt he had unfinished business in the NFL. He didn’t finish the way he wanted, nor did he prove himself for a long time as a play caller: he only called plays for a (successful) year for Tampa Bay, in 2018, and staff were laid off. mainly because the defense stunk. Then he had a season in Cleveland where he didn’t call any plays. In fact, when asked last month what was it about Georgia that made him want to return to the college game, the first thing Monken mentioned was being the caller of the game.
“I couldn’t wait to call her again and get the right opportunity,” he said.
Georgia was the right opportunity. But as big as Athens is, Monken is only 56 and probably doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon. He also watches Kirby Smart and sees a 47 year old man training his alma mater and realizes there is a ceiling for him here. The only thing Monken has left to do in college is win as a head coach, and it’s unclear if he can get the kind of job he wants. He joked last month that everyone thought he was too old. There may be some truth to that, although he could also be caught in the middle at this level: he probably wouldn’t want a recovery project like a lower level Power 5 job, but he would probably not be hired for a higher position. – level work.
Could Georgia just keep it with money? Maybe, at least up to a point. Monken was already the highest paid assistant in college football last year, at least among public schools, bringing in $2.1 million a year. Georgia might have to dip deeper into the coffers if Tampa Bay, Baltimore or any NFL team wants to make a bidding war out of it. Tampa Bay reportedly paid former offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich around $3 million. The money is there in Georgia, especially with all that championship merchandise being sold, and even more is on the way next year when the new SEC television deal with Disney kicks in.
The quality of life, however, is something the college game will struggle to match. Monken, obviously, is enjoying himself personally and professionally in Georgia. Contrary to what some expected, Smart left Monken alone enough to do his job, and the results are clear.
But the nature of college football coaching is just different. Name, Image and Likeness and Transfer Portal are new complicating factors in the college game. How much a factor depends on the person. For some coaches, it’s more of an old man situation crying out to the cloud: “In my day, kids were loyal and were happy just with a scholarship, yada yada yada.” If the athletes who are given the same right to move and the same earning power as the coaches drive those coaches out of the game, then so be it.
For other coaches, NIL and the portal may just be excuses, something to say to make sympathetic fans feel better when the coach is just ready to be done with the other, more legitimate hassles of the college game: always needing to be near your phone in case a rookie calls, deals with parents, or even well-heeled alumni who need a little time to pay another big check.
And for some coaches, NIL and the portal bring legitimate additional problems. At least in the pros, when a player has a contract, the coaches know he is tied to the team. In college, coaches now have to keep players happy every year, and they risk losing players they took a long time to develop. They too, as coaches in the NIL world, can find themselves in between a manager and a collective, when all they want to do is craft a great game that will end up making a lot of money. themselves and their players.
Schultz: Georgia-Todd Monken relationship works for both parties
Most of these things don’t go away. No one is holding their breath for the NCAA to compel Congress to magically save it from the brave new world of NIL. The transfer rule won’t change any time soon either, although it would be nice if it stuck to a one-time exemption, rather than players jumping from school to school every year. (So far only once is the rule, plus transfer of graduates, but waivers also exist.)
But even if you went back to the pre-2020 rules right now, the other parts of the college coaching job would still be there. Believe me, I’ve been in trouble for years: the pressures of recruiting, the need to be constantly on time, a schedule that seems endless.
When John Lilly was the Georgia tight ends coach under Mark Richt, he told stories of sitting with his young kids and then seeing a name and number pop up on his phone and knowing, much to his regret, that he had to take the call. Many other coaches shared similar stories, officially and unofficially.
Wit, Wisdom of Georgia’s Todd Monken: ‘I hope I kept my end of the bargain’
That’s what money is for, as Don Draper said in “Mad Men” to a colleague in a different context. But money can’t do much.
Matt Luke finally had enough last year and called it quits, leaving money on the table. After being away for a season, Luke doesn’t seem to miss it yet. He still lives happily in Athens and has not kept up with the universities current hiring cycle.
All of which is why Monken, when asked last month if he wanted to work in the NFL again, was careful not to get stuck.
“I don’t know,” he said. “At one point in my career I thought I knew exactly what I wanted next year, in five years, in 10 years, really what I wanted. I don’t know if that’s just the fact to grow old or the appreciation of the work you have, but I don’t control the opportunities that come my way. I would never ever say anything.
Monken is keeping his options open and no one can blame him. He can go back to Georgia, and that would be great for the program. But there’s only one coach in the building who has every reason to stay long, and it’s up to him to hire good assistants. He did when he hired Monken, and everything we see now is the result of that.
(Top photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)