Photo: Jeff Monken
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson found himself reflecting on his coaching tree Tuesday on the weekly Atlantic Coast Conference coaches call.
- Jeff Monken has rebuilt Army's historic program and Brian Bohannon has founded Kennesaw State from the ground up as a third-year program. Both were assistant coaches under Johnson at Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets’ head coach was first asked about Bohannon. The Owls only began playing football in 2015 as a Football Championship Subdivision member. Kennesaw State is 10-1 and won the Big South Conference title. The Owls open the FCS playoffs Saturday at home against Samford.
- Then he was asked about Monken.
- “Yeah, I'm really proud of Jeff as well,” Johnson said. “He's had a great year. I think that they went in there and have done the same thing. They've kind of stayed the course via philosophy. Jeff was a big part of us turning the thing around at Navy. He saw how it worked, and I think he's gone in there and implemented a lot of that stuff and some of his own ideas. They've had a good year to this point.”
- Monken spent 13 seasons under Johnson, who has always won with triple-option offense. Six of those seasons were at Navy. where Monken coached slotbacks from 2002 to 2005 and also specials teams in 2006 and 2007.
- After four seasons at Georgia Southern posting a 38-16 record with three FCS playoff trips to the semifinals, Army acted on Johnson's recommendation to hire Monken. His first two Army teams struggled to 4-8 and 2-10 records. Entering the 2016 season, the Black Knights had gone six years without a winning season and 14 without defeating Navy.
- But 2016 was Monken’s breakthrough season. Army finished last year with an 8-5 record and three-game winning streak. The 38-31 win over North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl was the Black Knights’ first bowl game victory since defeating Illinois in the 1985 Peach Bowl.
- Army's 2016 momentum has continued into 2017. Optimism for the future has never been higher than in decades at West Point. Army enjoyed a six-game losing streak until a 52-49 loss in a heartbreaker last week at North Texas. The Black Knights have entered a three-week break before the Army-Navy Game Dec. 9 in Philadelphia.
- A win will deliver Army its first Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy since 1996. The opportunity was set up by Army’s first win over Air Force since 2005. The Black Knights’ 21-0 win at Air Force on Nov. 4 was the their first in Colorado Springs since 1977. Those are the kind of hurdles Monken has cleared.
- Johnson, more than any other coach, understands that the challenges that confronted Monken. When Johnson took over at Navy in 2002, the Midshipmen were coming off a fourth straight losing season, including 1-11 in 2000 and 0-10 in 2001.
- Navy also had lost seven of the last 10 against Army, but Johnson not only beat the Black Knights his first try in 2002, his teams never lost to Army. He was 6-0 against the Black Knights before landing the Georgia Tech job in 2008.
- Ken Niumatalolo, who was Johnson’s Navy offensive coordinator, continued the domination until Army won 21-17 last year. Monken and Niumatalolo were fellow assistants at Navy, but Monken moved with Johnson to Georgia Tech. He was with him two seasons before he landed the Georgia Southern job.
- Now Niumatalolo and Monken represent the Johnson coaching tree on opposite sides of the Army-Navy Game. Niumatalolo was 8-0 against Army until last year's result. Johnson says Monken gaining his second win over Navy won't be as easy as he and Niumatalolo made it look.
- “I guess they're all hard,” Johnson said. “We were fortunate when I was the head coach there at Navy we never lost to Army.”
- Johnson's fingerprints are all over the modern-day Army-Navy rivalry.
- Follow Tom Shanahan’s stories on Twitter: @shanny4055