Rick Cleveland

Monken deserves a 'thank you' for making Southern Miss football fun again

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD 
 Southern Miss coach Todd Monken pleads his case with the referee during game against Old Dominion.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD Southern Miss coach Todd Monken pleads his case with the referee during game against Old Dominion. SUN HERALD

Last weekend's surprising news -- Todd Monken leaving Southern Miss to become offensive coordinator of the Tampa Bucs -- immediately was followed by some harsh, bordering on nasty, criticism via social media.

Many fans felt jilted and used. They felt hurt. And they were angry.

The timing -- 10 days before National Signing Day and amid what appears a successful recruiting season -- is terrible. And then there's this factor: After three seasons of abject misery, USM had returned to its normal winning ways. Monken's move sparked a "here we go again" feeling.

But the facts are these: There was never going to be a good time. The timing is what it is, which is when Monken got the offer to move to the NFL and mentor last year's No. 1 draft choice, Jameis Winston, for a man he likes and respects, Dirk Koetter. Monken and Koetter have worked together with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

If Monken's goal was to coach in the NFL, then this was the time to make the move.

Monken served USM well. He took a program that was winless and in disarray and built a winning team. He restocked the talent. He restored discipline, organization and work ethic. He surrounded himself with good people.

He made football fun again at USM. He faked kicks. He kicked onsides. He ran trick plays. And he had a knack for doing all that at the right times. In short, he did a splendid job.

He deserves thanks, not daggers.

Now then, USM's job -- athletic director Bill McGillis's job, specifically -- is to find the next Todd Monken. And do it fast.

Because of the looming recruiting deadline, McGillis must move with haste and said Sunday he plans to do just that and have a coach in place by the coming weekend.

Some Southern Miss folks have joked (I think): "Well, just go hire whomever is the Oklahoma State offensive coordinator."

That's because Jeff Bower, Larry Fedora and Monken (three of the last four USM coaches) were all offensive coordinators at OSU before coming to Southern Miss. Mike Yurcich would be that guy and disregarding the Sugar Bowl, he's done a great job.

It seems to me, however, the timing of this hire demands someone familiar with USM and Mississippi -- or at least familiarity with this USM coaching staff. This isn't a situation where the head coach has left for another college job and has taken most of his staff with him. Monken has left a good staff in place. They are the guys who have, for the most part, done this year's recruiting.

One possibility, Monken's former offensive coordinator, Chip Lindsey, has announced he's staying at Arizona State. So, do you elevate defensive coordinator Dave Duggan, who has been a head coach before in NFL Europe?

What about Jay Hopson, the remarkably successful Alcorn State coach? Hopson worked for Bower at USM and already has the utmost respect of Mississippi high school and junior college coaches. He almost beat Monken and USM in 2014 in Hattiesburg.

Steve Campbell of Central Arkansas, who has guided Delta State and Mississippi Gulf Coast to national championships, deserves consideration. And there are others.

As Monken stated many times, the USM job has many pluses: a winning tradition and being in the middle of so much talent (Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana), chief among them.

The good news is that Monken leaves behind a much better situation than the one he inherited.

He deserves a huge thank-you for that.

Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@msfame.com), is the historian for the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum and a syndicated columnist.

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