The Packers passed on chance to hire lifelong fan as head coach. He went on to help Georgia win back-to-back national titles.
Georgia OC Todd Monken grew up a Packers fan and nearly landed their head-coaching position four years ago. Instead, he helped the Bulldogs win back-to-back championships.
LOS ANGELES -- As the confetti fell at SoFi Stadium shortly before 8 p.m. local time, Todd Monken made his way from the skybox to the field. The Georgia Bulldogs' offensive coordinator had just called the game of his life, guiding the team to a College Football Playoff-record 65 points and helping secure a second consecutive national title for the program.
The championship marked perhaps the greatest achievement in the career of a delightfully offbeat individual. Whereas most coaches practice obfuscation when asked even the most mundane question, Monken readily provides frank responses tinged with humor. He'll share that "there's a lot of shit we got to apologize for in life" before quipping that Georgia's 25-year-old starting quarterback "was at Jones Junior College eight years ago."
Those sensibilities bleed over into Monken's coaching. After Monday's victory over the TCU Horned Frogs, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart credited Monken and his offensive staff with the "unique plan" that "made the most of the players we have."
And no player shined brighter Monday night than the punchline of Monken's jokes, Stetson Bennett IV. The former walk-on delivered his finest performance, finishing 18-of-25 for 304 yards and four touchdowns with another two scores coming on the ground. For his efforts, Bennett earned the CFP National Championship offensive MVP award.
"Coach Monken does an unbelievable job in that room," Smart remarked following the game. "And he did an unbelievable job with Stetson."
By any objective measure, Monken's decision to join Smart's staff three years ago looks like a remarkable success. In addition to helping the Bulldogs end a 40-year championship drought with back-to-back national titles, Monken has solidified his reputation as one of the game's best offensive minds and play-callers. At age 56, he has several more chapters to write in his career, one that has already taken him across the country with stops at multiple major programs and the NFL.
But if not for a few twists of fate, perhaps Monken never comes to Georgia at all. Instead, the veteran coach might have returned home to the Midwest to take over the team of his childhood, the Green Bay Packers.
Decades before Monken became a two-time national champion, he grew up in a coaching family based in Illinois. A handful of close relatives coached at the high-school level around the state and others, like his cousin Jeff, went on to success in the college game. That exposure to football pushed Monken to try the sport, eventually becoming a quarterback.
Monken's personality quirks became apparent early in his life. While kids in the Chicagoland area become devotees of the Chicago Bears almost without exception, the young Monken chose a different path.
"I grew up a Packers fan as a little kid because I grew up in Chicago and all my family's Bears fans and I liked to argue," Monken said. "So, it worked out perfect."
That contrarian streak proved durable. Monken would go on to make atypical choices throughout his career. After rising through the ranks as an assistant, he landed his first head-coaching job with the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. He took over a program fresh off the worst season in school history, going winless with an average margin of defeat of more than 18 points.
Most coaches would have taken a different position or waited for a better opportunity to come around. Even Monken questioned himself when Southern Miss won just four games over his first two seasons at the helm.
"In the moment, you do what you think is best for your career," Monken said. "At that moment, I thought, 'Go be the head coach at Southern Miss.' And when we weren't very good, I thought that was stupid as hell. That was a dumb decision. But the challenge was there, and I knew it was a great place. I needed to do it better, and we did."
After the slow start, Monken achieved the unthinkable, guiding Southern Miss to a 9-5 record in 2014. The season re-established the Golden Eagles as a player in Conference USA while making their head coach a hot name in the eyes of athletic directors. It seemed that Monken would take over a larger program soon thereafter.
Instead, Monken threw another curveball. Though he left Southern Miss, he didn't do so for another head-coaching gig. Rather, he departed to take an offensive-coordinator position with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"When the Tampa Bay job came open, I thought that was the best thing for me at that time to go take on that challenge," Monken said. "And it was."
The offense Monken took over in Tampa had talent but little experience. He inherited Jameis Winston, a former No. 1 overall pick and one of the most high-variance passers of recent vintage, along with a skill-position group headlined by Mike Evans and Doug Martin. The Buccaneers also featured a patchwork offensive line that never solidified during Monken's tenure.
Even so, the Buccaneers eventually found their footing. They improved from ranking in the back half of the league by offensive DVOA to a fringe top-10 unit during Monken's second and third seasons as offensive coordinator. Though the team never finished with a record better than 9-7 during his tenure -- largely the result of the putrid defenses Tampa rolled out in 2017 and '18 -- Monken drew interest from other NFL teams with head-coaching vacancies.
As fate would have it, the Packers made a rare coaching change just as Monken emerged as a candidate. The franchise fired Super Bowl-winning head coach Mike McCarthy in early December following an embarrassing loss at Lambeau Field to a 2-9 Arizona Cardinals. Facing its first head-coaching search in more than a decade, Green Bay scheduled a meeting with Monken.
In football as in other walks of life, a job interview can take any number of turns. Coaches go into the process with some idea of what questions the team plans to ask but have only limited information.
"When you're interviewing for a college head-coaching job, there's more about development," Monken said. "Maybe they care or not, but they got to ask about players going to school and maybe recruiting. There's other questions in the NFL about roster management, handling players, the schedule, and development. How are you going to develop these players when the margin for error is so small?
"When it was Green Bay, it was who could get Aaron Rodgers to play at a high level. And that's critically important."
Monken calls the chance to interview with the Packers "an unbelievable experience." However, the team ultimately went another direction, hiring first-time head coach Matt LaFleur for the job. In the four years since, Green Bay has won the second-most regular-season games in the NFL while Monken took a one-year stop with the Cleveland Browns before finally landing at Georgia.
For his part, Monken doesn't hold any resentment over the Packers' decision.
"They hired the right guy," Monken said. "Matt LaFleur's done a great job."
In fairness, so too has Monken. In addition to Georgia's overall success this season, Monken became one of the five finalists for the Broyles Award, the honor given to the nation's top assistant coach. Though he appears set to return as the Bulldogs' offensive coordinator for 2023, other teams could still come calling. That includes the NFL which has already seen five head-coaching jobs open.
As with most matters, Monken seems open to the possibilities that might come his way, but he doesn't care to fixate on them. He wants to remain focused on the current moment.
"If you would have asked me whether I would have thought 10 years previous to then that I would have been calling plays with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I would have said, 'No,'" Monken said. "Or you say, 'Would you anticipate being here and playing for a national championship?' Well, no, because there's certain things that you're hopeful for, but all you do is the best job you can and then you play it out where it ends up."
And despite not receiving the opportunity to coach the team for which he cheered as a child, Monken maintains a healthy perspective on how everything unfolded.
"This is where I was meant to be," Monken said. "I always look at it that way. Be where your feet are and embrace where you're at in that moment."