Big test for rookie Army coach Jeff Monken: Navy
WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — When Jeff Monken awakens every morning only one thing is on his mind, and it’s been that way since he was hired as head coach at Army a year ago: #BEATNAVY.
“That’s the No. 1 objective,” Monken said.
He gets his first chance on Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore when the archrivals meet for the 115th time. Navy leads the series with Army 58-49-7, thanks to its current streak of 12 straight wins.
The 47-year-old Monken was hired last December to turn around a program that’s been mostly down for nearly two decades. He’s produced four wins in his first season with one game remaining, but two preseason goals have not been accomplished.
Army (4-7) did not win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, emblematic of supremacy among the three service academies. Air Force (9-3) beat both Army and Navy (6-5) to win the prestigious hardware. And the Black Knights did not attain six wins to qualify for the Armed Forces Bowl, which means they’ll go into the offseason after Saturday’s game knowing the Middies and Falcons will still be playing.
Still, Monken can make a real statement with a victory.
“This being our last game, we’ll try to play the best that we’ve played all year,” Monken said Tuesday. “We don’t feel like we’ve played a complete game from start to finish. I can’t think of a better football game to do that in.”
Jim Young resurrected Army football after taking over as head coach in 1983. He produced a consistent winner for a program that had had just three winning seasons in 14 years and went 5-3 against Navy before Bob Sutton succeeded him in 1991. Between the two men, their teams beat the Middies 10 times in a 13-year span.
What happened to Sutton paints a picture of the amount of pressure Monken faces. Sutton was fired on a Philadelphia street after Navy posted a 19-9 victory in 1999 — a mere three years after he was named national coach of the year for guiding the Black Knights to the lone 10-win season in academy history.
Navy has dominated since, through an array of Army coaches. Among them, only Todd Berry got the job done against Navy — once, 26-17 in 2001 — and he was the architect of the worst team in West Point history, the 0-13 Black Knights of 2003.
At least Monken might have an ace up his sleeve. He was a former assistant at Navy under Paul Johnson, who rebuilt the program much like Young did at West Point. Johnson’s Middies beat Army 58-12 in the season finale of his rookie season in 2002, just their second victory in 12 games.
“I think the situation is eerily similar to the one we went into at Navy prior to the 2002 season,” Monken said. “I’m glad I had that experience under coach Johnson, seeing the changes that were made that really impacted our ability and opportunities for our players to succeed and have a winning football program.”
After Army beat FCS powerhouse Fordham 42-31 in the home finale at Michie Stadium on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Monken gave the Black Knights the holiday weekend off to help get the team refreshed physically for the big game, though he says some injuries linger.
“Hopefully, that extra time is going to be a positive for us,” he said.
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