ATLANTA — Todd Monken might currently be the most celebrated offensive guru in college football, but the Georgia coordinator knows better than to take any comfort in that.
Monken, a grizzled 56-year-old self-described coaching “vagabond,” has been around long enough to know how quickly things can change.
“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, asked about working for Kirby Smart. “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.
“This is a business. I’ve done organizations where ‘this is a family.’ This isn’t a family. You’re going to fire me if we suck, so don’t say it’s a family. This is the way it is.”
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Monken and the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs are a 7-point favorite to beat No. 4 Ohio State at 8 p.m. on Saturday in the CFP Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The coaching career path of the former Division III quarterback paints Monken’s picture, as he’s worked at eight different schools and three different NFL teams.
Monken casually mentioned on Wednesday getting fired from his job as the Tampa Bay Bucs offensive coordinator because the team turned the ball over too much, and shared that he has regrets over how he handled things in Cleveland before getting fired from the Browns job.
Monken’s humility likely goes a long way in working for a coach like Smart, who is just as blunt and results-oriented as his hand-picked offensive coordinator.
Conversely, Monken revealed during the course of a discussion about his future leading to another NFL opportunity or head coaching position that Smart’s passion and background as a Georgia player led him to accept the job with the Bulldogs in January of 2020.
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“That’s a big, big piece, his heart is here, this is his home and in today’s day and age when coaches take other jobs, the grass is greener, I didn’t feel like that would be the case,” Monken said.
“He wanted to change the perception of Georgia’s offense. Now that’s easier said than done, but he wanted to be aggressive in that regard to be able to get the right skill guys and quarterbacks.”
And Monken and Smart have been relentless to that end, to the point the Bulldogs pursued Caleb Williams in the transfer portal after Stetson Bennett won the CFP Championship Game last year.
When asked when he knew Bennett was the right guy to quarterback his offense on Wednesday, Monken joked “Shit, there’s plays in the game, I’m not sure he’s the guy,” and then followed up by saying “there’s times I call some shit I don’t know if I’m the guy.”
Monken works hard for his success, but he’s quick to share the credit, and he admits that sometimes there’s a level of good fortune involved.
“Sometimes stuff doesn’t work and you’re grasping and trying different stuff; sometimes shit just works,” Monken said, asked about the masterpiece of a game he called in the 49-3 season-opening victory over Oregon.
“Interestingly enough, playing that first game, we certainly had an advantage. Dan (Lanning) being here and running the same style of defense, what we go against every day. When we’re prepping for them during two-a-days, we don’t even need to have scout cards. Now they’re going to change certain things, but we’re just going against the same thing.”
And players, yes, Monken quickly points out that having great players makes all the difference, just like he said “cookies taste better with sugar than vinegar.”
Smart added another chef to the Georgia coaches’ kitchen this past season in the form of former UGA quarterback and OC Mike Bobo, and Monken sounds like he can’t believe how well it has worked out himself.
“It’s interesting because when Kirby came to me and he talked about Mike Bobo joining the staff, which I knew he was going to join the staff, and whether I agreed to it or not it didn’t matter,” Monken said. “So he made it seem like it was my choice, but it really wasn’t. At the end of the day, it’s been awesome. It’s been awesome.
“Mike Bobo’s heart is at Georgia. Will Muschamp’s heart is at Georgia. I’m a vagabond. I love it at Georgia. But I’m not born (here), that’s not who I am, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean I don’t give everything I can to the University of Georgia. But their heart is here.”
It’s fair to say Bulldogs’ fans don’t care where Monken came from, or how much money it will take to keep him, so long as he stays.
And as Tuesday’s media session revealed, the personality, wisdom and coaching philosophy behind all of this unprecedented Georgia offensive success is just as fascinating as the product the Bulldogs are putting on the field.
Monken is as much of a blue-collar worker as an offensive intellectual or guru, and he lives true to his “coordinator” title as he expertly makes the best use of the coaching talent around him along with the players on the field.
Monken reflected how different things seemed his first fall with the program, as Covid had prevented spring drills and the offense got off to a rough start when his hand-picked transfer, JT Daniels, was still dealing with a knee injury.
“We just got knocked in the dirt like every day in fall camp, and I’m thinking, ‘This sucks. Why the heck did I come here?’ " said Monken, who had seen Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman leave the program and D’Wan Mathis emerge as the frontrunner for the starting job with Bennett and Carson Beck the other healthy quarterbacks.
“It was a matter of what we did offensively and trying to morph into NFL things that guys can handle and other ideas that guys have because it’s a collective effort by everybody.”
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Indeed, Bennett admits, there was quite a learning curve for him as he grew into a 13-0 quarterback an Heisman Trophy finalist this season.
“I feel like before (Monken) got here, I didn’t really understand football,” Bennett said. “It’s weird, even in 2020, didn’t really know what was going on. You know, I guess I knew what play was called.
“It’s just the countless meetings. Maybe I’m a slow learner, but finally, it did start clicking whenever he would tell me the same thing for the 20th time and look at me like I was, you know, like why do you not do what I just tell you to do? I’m your coach.”
Monken already knew it would take a strong staff to take Georgia to its greatest heights, a point he emphasized again on Wednesday.
“You do need people that recruit, and you need a staff that adds value to your game plan, because anybody thinks they’ve got all the answers, they’re wrong. They don’t. I don’t,” Monken said.
“My job is to coordinate areas that we give to the whole staff and empower them so that their ideas are valued and that Stetson’s ideas are valued. And then my job is to coordinate it and try to make sure during the week we fight our ass off to make it look right so that Saturday it looks that way and be consistent.”