New York City- The interview went extremely well. The interviewee answered every question in a thorough, insightful manner without a single interruption of speech. Finally the opportunity to add a final thought was posed. Without hesitation came the reply, "we aren’t losing to those sons of bitches anymore." The pair entrusted with the interview process knew they had their man.
On Tuesday evening it was at the West Point Coaches Dinner in New York City. The event organized by John Buckheit Esq. , an ‘84 Army graduate and President of the West Point Chapter of the Association of the United States Army. On this evening before a very well attended event, Army AD Boo Corrigan recalled the story of interviewing Jeff Monken, for the football coaching position. It was four years ago in Georgia where Monken guided Georgia Southern. On hearing Monken’s final response Corrigan recalled, "I had to restrain the Superintendent (LTG Robert Caslen) from hugging him." There was another candidate to be reviewed. Regardless the two West Point administrators knew they had their man. Monken’s take was simply, "I thought that’s it. I cursed in front of a Superintendent. No way I get hired." The scatalogical slip could be forgive. What Corrigan and saw was a man passionate about the academy and one embracing the challenge. Not to mention the necessity to beat Navy.
With apologies to Michigan-Ohio State, the Iron Bowl with Auburn-Alabama and USC-Notre Dame, Army-Navy is THE rivalry in college football. Hatfields vs. McCoys for 100 yards. Interestingly, as hard as they battle, each side has a healthy respect for the other. Try telling a devotee in Ann Arbor, the merits of the school in Columbus. Winning records, bowl games and the like are naturally important. In truth those at these two highly respected service academies really want to know what you did against the rival.
At the time Monken was being hired, Army had not defeated their chief rival since 2001. The streak, featured with an appreciable dose of heartbreakers, would continue until 2016 when the Cadets scored a 21-17 victory. This past December it was two straight for Army. The game in a driving snowstorm was memorable. The 14-13 triumph though, epitomized all Monken was about in his approach to Army football.
Corrigan noted that Monken realized his charges might be outsized or not have the quickness at every position matching up with teams on Army’s schedule. His solution, to put together the best conditioned team possible. One that would remain relatively fresh when the opposition began to ‘feel it’ in that final quarter. As afternoon wore on to evening on that snowy day in Philadelphia, Army remained focused and driven as they emerged victorious. The win epitomized Monken’s basic philosophy, "show physical and mental toughness at all times" as noted by Corrigan.
On this evening the athletic director was introduced by Rollie Stichweh. Back in 1964 as a Cadet quarterback Stichweh led Army to an 11-8 triumph over the Midshipmen. Stichweh’s remarks also included praise for the job Monken is doing as well as reflections on the great rivalry. Even today he remains a good friend of a playing adversary, "a quarterback by the name Roger." To get added significance and respect on this rivalry, it should be noted one Roger Staubach made the trip to West Point to honor Stichweh on the latter’s Army Hall of Fame induction. To this date the two former quarterbacks wage a friendly $1 bet on the outcome. The last two seasons have put Stichweh ‘on a roll’.
The evening also introductions and the opportunities of coaches in volleyball, swimming and diving, women’s rugby and tennis, boxing, sprint football and soccer to not only be introduced but speak about their own programs. To a person the common theme was evident- how West Point is a special place and how leaders are developed in the classroom and on the athletic field. And, of course, how each fared against Navy.
One would not blame Monken if he stayed sequestered in his office breaking down film, organizing recruiting and performing a number of tasks coaches today are involved in. Monken puts his time and yet makes sure he gets out to see the other athletic events on campus. He simply admires the "spirit and leadership" the other programs display on a daily basis. In competition and in practice as well.
For the record the Black Knights put together a 10-3 record this past season. The grand finale a 42-35 Armed Forces Bowl win over San Diego State. Monken may not be totally immersed in football analytics but realizes a game affords 10-12 possessions. Losing the ball to turnovers or being stopped by penalties kills drives. Beyond that, the credo "we will not be out toughed."
On this evening West Point graduates and dignitaries mingled. Conversation and wine flowed. Many had their photo taken with the Commander In Chief trophy on display. And, of course, with coach Monken who genuinely enjoyed the festivities and celebration. A celebration largely for his program and all representing their own on a special night. One including a room filled chant, ‘BEAT NAVY’!