It worked so well, the Golden Eagles are trying it again.
Southern Miss introduced Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken as its new football coach Tuesday, confident that the 46-year-old can return the Golden Eagles to their winning ways after the worst season in school history.
“You want high expectations,” Monken said. “You want to be at a place where winning is expected. And this is one of those places. This is a new era of Southern Miss football. You’ve had that history and tradition — hit what I call a one-year speed bump — but I’m looking with great confidence to the future and not looking back.”
Monken comes to the Golden Eagles after two successful seasons leading the Cowboys’ high-scoring offense, which is averaging nearly 45 points this season. He will not coach with Oklahoma State at the Heart of Dallas bowl on Jan. 1, instead starting his job in Hattiesburg immediately.
There’s plenty of work to be done.
Monken replaces Ellis Johnson, who was fired Nov. 27 after going 0-12 in one disappointing season. The shocking freefall came one year after a 12-win season that included a Conference USA championship, No. 19 national ranking and Hawaii Bowl victory.
Monken was confident the Golden Eagles could return to those winning ways soon. He met with the team Tuesday and said the “only disappointment is they get to go home.”
“(The players) didn’t forget how to win, how to work or how to compete,” Monken said. “They’re ready to work.”
Monken’s arrival has to seem like a flashback for Southern Miss fans, who watched five years ago as Larry Fedora was introduced following the 2007 season. The brash Oklahoma State offensive coordinator finished with a 34-19 record over four years — including a 12-2 mark in 2011 — at Southern Miss before leaving to become North Carolina’s coach.
Monken said it was an honor to be compared with Fedora, then turned to humor to illustrate similarities and differences.
“We both like visors,” Monken deadpanned. “But he’s got longer, darker hair than me and uses a little more gel.”
Southern Miss athletic director Jeff Hammond said Monken has a four-year contract, but declined to disclose financial terms. Hammond did say the deal would be similar to Johnson’s, which paid about $750,000 annually.
Johnson — whose defensive-minded pedigree always seemed a poor fit with the Golden Eagles — is owed a $2.1 million buyout over the next three seasons. That’s a further drain for an athletic program already trying to work its way out of about $1 million in debt.
The hire is crucial for Hammond, who is nearing the end of a 1-year contract. He called Monken’s arrival “a return to toughness.”
Monken spent four seasons as the receivers coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars before coming to Oklahoma State in 2011. He’s also been an assistant at LSU, Louisiana Tech and Eastern Michigan. He said one of the pulls of the Southern Miss job is a knowledge of the recruiting area, and that there are plenty of talented players in a five- or six-hour radius around Hattiesburg.
Now he’ll have to persuade recruits to come to a program that was the only one in the Football Bowl Subdivision without a win last season.
But the program has won lots of games in its recent history. Before Johnson’s one-year debacle, the Golden Eagles had a streak of 18 straight winning seasons and 10 straight bowl appearances.
Southern Miss feels Monken can take them back to those days, and his pass-happy offense is a big reason.
The Cowboys averaged 44.7 points (4th nationally), 548.9 total yards (5th) and 333.4 passing yards (7th) this season after topping the 50-point mark six times in 2011.
He accomplished those gaudy numbers in 2011 with quarterback Brandon Weeden, who was a first-round pick by the Cleveland Browns, but managed the same success while rotating three inexperienced quarterbacks this season.
Monken is the latest in a line of successful offensive coordinators under Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, which includes Fedora and West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen.
“He kept our offense going at a high level and we are very grateful for what he did for our program,” Gundy said in a statement. “… Todd comes from a football family. He’s grown up around it his entire life and is very driven. His energy, passion and football knowledge will make him a tremendous asset to Southern Miss football.”