Coaches coach players, at least most of the time. Jeff Monken coaches people who happen to be players.
After a game – and in Monken’s two years with Army most of them have been losses – the seemingly mandatory gratitude for hard work, commitment, all the usual suspects, is expressed. But they don’t seem like standard lines recited off a cue card. If Monken is a phony, he’s doing one hell of a job hiding it.
Following the Black Knights 21-17 loss to Navy Saturday – Army’ 14th straight to the Midshipmen – Monken appeared for the post-game press conference. He had either cried or was trying not to.
“It’s incredibly disappointing for everyone involved,” he began. “I couldn’t be more proud of a football team than I am of ours. I have been fortunate enough to coach and be a part of teams that have won championships and had incredible seasons, and I don’t know a team that I respect and admire more than our team. Week in and week out they have battled. We have come so close to victory many a time. They have come back on Sundays after tough games each week this year and are resilient. I can tell you this, the enemy that these seniors are going to face in eight months, they’re in for it, because we have some fighters. There is nothing anyone can throw at them that will back them down. Ultimately, that is our job at West Point, to build those warriors that are there to protect all of us, our freedoms and the way of life that we enjoy.”
Pretty heavy stuff. Not many coaches need fear that their quarterback today may be dodging gunfire in the Middle East the day after tomorrow. Later there would be the obligatory comments about missing a block here or fumbling a ball there. After all, the guy is a coach. But they lacked passion. No one likes to cite bad plays, especially after a loss, but Monken does so freely, though somewhat reluctantly.
“Navy executed and made some plays when they needed to and we made some critical errors that weren’t forced,” he said. “We can’t make those errors. When you do sometimes you get beat. Nobody realizes that you’re a part of a team and something like this group is, the emotional investment that you have in the other people that you’re with is really incredible to be a part of something like that. I am absolutely positive that we have a room full of guys in there that are going to find a way to win. They had a chance to quit tonight and they didn’t. They’ve had a chance to quit all year and they haven’t and I know they’re going to keep fighting. I am incredibly disappointed, but I am encouraged by what I saw on our team tonight and I’ve got nothing but praise for those guys and the effort they put in.”
It’s a lot easier to discuss your team’s deficiencies when they don’t get in the way of a victory. But Army finished 2-10 this season, 4-8 last. How many great plays can you cite with those kind of results? However, as is always the case, Monken’s comments were directed not to the plays, but the players. Having been an assistant coach at Navy for six years surely prepared him for what awaited him upon his arrival at West Point.
“I told them I loved them, and I do,” he said. “I told them I was proud of them, and I am. We are going to continue to fight. We aren’t going to be discouraged. We can be disappointed, but we aren’t going to be discouraged. We are going to come back and work and find a way to win those games, and we will. I told them to embrace these seniors one more time because it was the last time that we’d ever be together like that as a team and we have some seniors that are going to go out there to be the soldiers we are going to represent in this game next year. It was a real privilege for us to wish them well as they move on.”
Moving on. From four years of college, during which time their syllabus was somewhere on the outer ring of hell. Not to the NFL. They will continue to wear helmets, though not the type whose primary goal is to prevent concussions. Offensive line today, line of fire tomorrow.