What a great day it was for Georgia Southern University.
The Statesboro, Ga., football team coached by 1989 Millikin University graduate Jeff Monken stunned Florida 26-20 on Saturday, Nov. 23.
“It was a great finish,” Monken acknowledges.
For the first time Florida, a four-touchdown favorite, lost to a Football Championship Subdivision team. Better known as the FCS in the complicated National Collegiate Athletic Association listings, this was Division 1-AAA from 1978-2005 and includes teams such as Illinois State.
Florida has been a biggie in national championship reckoning, winning twice recently. This is down time, a 4-8 record. And the loss to lower division Georgia Southern is considered the most embarrassing in school history.
And Florida paid Georgia Southern $550,000 to play the game in Gainesville.
Georgia Southern piled up 429 yards rushing in a triple option offense, zero yards passing, 0 for 3. In an era of pitch and catch, it’s an astounding statistic.
A member of the Southern Conference, Georgia Southern finished the season with a 7-4 record. It moves to the Sunbelt Conference next season, a step up the ladder with the penalty of being ineligible for postseason competition this season and next.
This was Monken’s fourth season as head coach. His previous teams had records of 10-5, 11-3 and 10-4 and each time advanced to the FCS playoff semifinals. “That’s why this season was a little disappointing,” Monken said, “until we beat Florida.” Georgia Southern played hurt all season with injuries to 13 starters.
The school has about 21,000 students and is a six-time national champion in its division.
Figure on continued success. “We have a lot of players coming back, we had 20 freshmen on the travel squad and most of them played,” Monken advises.
Monken was a wide receiver on the Millikin football team, 1985-1988, overshadowed by Jeff Query, who went on to play in the National Football League. Monken was a two-year letterman in track and field and was co-captain of the 1989 track and field team.
He remembers Elam’s Drive-In on West Eldorado Street and Elam’s root beer.
“We had a football competition in which the player who made the biggest blunder had to buy a jug of root beer for the others.”
So what has Monken done during all these years?
After Millikin, Monken began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Hawaii, 1989-90. He completed work for a master’s degree at Hawaii in 1991.
He served as a graduate assistant wide receivers coach at Arizona State for one season, then moved on to the State University of New York at Buffalo as assistant coach of wide receivers and tight ends and recruiting coordinator, 1992-94.
After a brief stint at Morton High School in Berwyn and at Concordia University in River Forest, Monken joined Georgia Southern the first time as slotbacks and punters coach, 1997-2001.
In 2002, he became slotbacks coach at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis. During his six seasons there, Navy set numerous school records.
Still on the move, he was slotbacks coach and special teams coordinator for Georgia Tech for two seasons, then returned to Georgia Southern as head coach.
In 2011, he was named Southern Conference coach of the year and in 2012, he was a Liberty Mutual coach of the year finalist.
Now Monken and Georgia Southern are nationally known as a giant-killer.