ATHENS — Reality is hitting hard at Georgia, where it has become clear the so-called “end game” for Todd Monken is not serving out the rest of his career on the Bulldogs staff.
Of course, it probably never was, and Coach Kirby Smart knows that.
Monken and every other assistant coach works in a year-to-year situation, which is why the multi-year contracts are so important. When head coaches get fired, there are typically major buyouts attached. But that is not the case for assistant coaches, whose lives and families can get turned upside down quickly.
One year later in Athens, meanwhile, Monken — already the highest-paid OC in college football at $2.1 million — is in a position to cash in on his great success.
So much so that former SEC head coach and Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt speculated earlier this month that Monken might even get NFL head coach consideration.
Georgia fans like to romanticize about the lure of the magical “G,” and how there is no better place in the country than Sanford Stadium on a Saturday afternoon.
To be sure, it is one of the best game days and destinations in the collegiate football world when it comes to championship potential under Smart, and the kindness and comfort of the Athens community.
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But the reality is that most every SEC school community feels that way about its surroundings and can make a case for itself to some degree.
Monken was and is a mercenary with no interest in smelling the roses or enjoying the downtown restaurant scene.
To be clear, Monken is respected, admired, and prioritized by the UGA football community. He has earned “guru” status, even though he winces when referred to as such.
“Sometimes shit just works,” Monken says with a gruff voice, hoarse from lighting up players who line up an inch off-base or quarterbacks who make the same mistake more than once.
Things might have gotten tense between Monken and Stetson Bennett, but the three returning quarterbacks love Monken and will be forced to re-evaluate their future plans should he leave.
Truth is, they are probably doing that right now as everyone waits on Monken’s next move.
Business is business
Monken has been up front, this is a business, not a family.
Some misguided media members made the mistake of asking Monken about his “relationship” with Smart during this postseason.
“Let’s not kid ourselves about what we do: I’m paid to score points and run the offense and that relationship only goes so far,” Monken said.
“I don’t want it any different. He’s my boss. My job is to work my ass off and for us to be as good as we can on offense. The moment I don’t see it that way (is) the moment I’m wrong.”
And so this will be a business decision for Monken, should he go to the NFL, or should he return.
“I’ve done organizations where ‘this is a family.’ This is not a family,” Monken said.
“You’re going to fire me if we suck, so don’t say it’s a family. This is the way it is.”
Monken has had his work cut out for him since arriving after the 2019 season.
Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman wasn’t a good fit for Monken’s offense and left before the 2020 season had even started.
Then came USC transfer JT Daniels, Monken’s hand-picked quarterback to run Air Raid concepts and spread offensive formations at full blast.
But then Daniels wasn’t healthy in time for the opener, and after taking over and setting the school single-season record for QB rating in 2020, he wasn’t able to stay healthy in 2021.
And, remember, no one was singing Monken’s praises when then-Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables threw him a major change-up in the 2021 opener.
UGA’s game plan anticipated the Tigers’ noted pressure packages but instead got a dose of well-disguised coverage-heavy schemes, leaving then-inexperienced receivers struggling to get open.
UGA escaped with Chris Smith’s historical Pick-6 providing the margin in a 10-3 win that proved pivotal to the 2021 championship season in that it allowed for a mulligan after the Bulldogs got slammed by Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
Indeed, there were some offensive struggles that season, from the Clemson opener to a multi-interception game at Florida and then throughout most of the first three quarters of the CFP Championship Game.
A legendary Georgia defense that featured five first-round picks was there to save the day in Jacksonville and Indianapolis, providing just enough margin for error as Monken worked to get his offense dialed in.
While Monken was very good in 2021, it was not until the 2022 season that his genius was fully appreciated, as the offense had to carry more of the weight.
Monken was a step ahead of the competition significantly more times than not, with the 65-7 CFP Championship Game a complete coaching mismatch.
Stay or leave, Monken will be remembered among the giants of the SEC coaching ranks, the difference-maker Smart needed to feel good about opening up the offense.
Former Georgia QB and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is conveniently on deck, a trusted and respected old friend of Smart’s, in addition to being one of the head coach’s favorite golf partners.
Monken will finish this “recruiting” cycle and ultimately make a decision on his future.
Then there will be more decisions made, by returning quarterbacks, other staff members and ultimately future recruits.
Money and job security are not the overriding issues for a 56-year-old man like Monken, although they will certainly be considerations.
There have been 10 offensive coordinator openings in the NFL this offseason, so it only makes sense that Monken’s name would come up on these short lists.
This is about opportunity — like a second-and-1 at the 50-yard line with a two-touchdown lead. Play it safe and run the ball again (stay at UGA), or go deep (into the uncertain waters of the NFL with another rich, guaranteed contract) with a Super Bowl ring in mind.
Monken can’t lose, his reputation in the SEC is sealed as a miracle worker. No other coach has taken a quarterback no other Power 5 school wanted and turned him into a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Bennett deserves credit for the hard work and resilience he showed at the college level. Bennett showed toughness and mobility, along with the acumen to handle Monken’s complex set of play calls and the adjustments that must be made in split seconds at the line of scrimmage.
Still, Bennett is nowhere to be found in the first-round NFL Draft projections among his SEC or CFP peers (Bryce Young, Will Levis and CJ Stroud), lending some credence to the offensive design and play-calling praise Monken receives.
The beginning of the Georgian football dynasty has been a team effort. It has taken a historically great defense, timely offense, and elite special teams play to deliver back-to-back national championships.
On the offensive end, it has been Monken’s schemes and a star-studded supporting cast working in concert with strong line play, a solid running game and Bennett’s knack for timely execution.
Monken and Bennett have had no shortage of weapons and assets at their disposal the past two seasons:
• future first-ballot College Football Hall of Famer Brock Bowers
• first-round left tackle Broderick Jones
• Keystone center Cedrick Van Pran
• Goliath mismatch tight end/tackle Darnell Washington
• Swiss Army Knife tailbacks James Cook and Kenny McIntosh
Bennett is moving on, his six-year eligibility clock has finally run out.
But there is more offensive talent returning up front, on the perimeter and in the quarterbacks room.
Georgia football will be fine with or without Monken in 2023 — it’s not like it can’t win another title without him.
But if Monken returns for another season — a shot at a historic three-peat — it sure would seem more likely.