Invariably, hiding a mistake ends up requiring more of an explanation than the mistake itself.
Jeff Monken had some explaining to do.
”Everything that happens in this program is my responsibility. It was wrong,” the Army head coach said. ”I’m disappointed it happened. I don’t like having my reputation and my name dirtied. I didn’t come to West Point thinking that I’m just going to change my ideals, my integrity and win at all costs.”
As such, Monken took the blame for the January bus trip on which a number of academy recruits were taken to a mall and a bowling alley, where a number of under-age students were permitted to drink beer. An investigation into the event by the academy – led by the superintendent, Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen Jr. – found that two assistant coaches, two officers and 20 players were involved in the incident. All have received varying degrees of discipline.
Monken was on the job only two weeks when the incident happened. The bus trip to the Palisades Mall in Nyack, N.Y. occurred, he said, while he was spending time at West Point meeting with the recruits’ parents.
“The organization of the trip was done by our staff,” he said. “We have a couple staff members who have been here previously. We had very few coaches on the staff and we didn’t have a support staff and we were trying to get a program going. We gave our guys a chance to go to the mall and shop for 90 minutes and brought them back. I don’t think organizing that trip for entertainment was out of line for what other programs do on recruiting weekends.”
Details were not made public until a report appeared early this week in the Colorado Gazette.
“I don’t feel I have to explain myself,” he said. “I dealt with it and I dealt with it sternly. If something happens you can count on me dealing with it sternly. It’s over and done with. It may not be over and done with for everybody else, because everyone else is finding out now and they think, `Oh gosh this is just a terrible thing.’ Yeah, it is bad and I am embarrassed that it happened, but you know they went to a mall and they were back here by 11 p.m., and they are in college. If you take a poll of college students and find out how many of them are home at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night, high school kids included… You know I’m not trying to make light of it, not at all, but to have a press release and embarrass people, and to bring that out and say here’s what happened, why? What good does that do? I can deal with it now.
“I don’t think it would have been appropriate to send a press release about everything that goes wrong or everything that is an issue at our academy or within our program. I just don’t feel the need to reveal that and say here’s what happened. It’s something that happened in house here and we dealt with it as sternly as we could have, the maximum punishment by the cadets. I felt the punishment I gave them in football was appropriate and it was stern and I’m not going to explain what I did, that’s not anyone’s business but our players and mine. If you want to ask any of our players if they want to cross me, they’re going to tell you no. If you want to call down to Statesboro [at Georgia Southern, Monken’s last stop before joining Army] and ask any of my former players if they want to cross me, they won’t because they know it’s serious. It’s not something I will brush under the rug. I take it seriously. It’s the reputation of this academy and this football program, which is a lot bigger than any of us as individuals. It is also my reputation as a man and as a football coach. I feel like we dealt with it appropriately and I don’t think it is necessary to send a press release out about every problem that happens in a football program. It’s our business. Well, somebody took it upon themselves to make it everybody’s business so if you think it is coincidental that it happened this week, I don’t know.”
Monken said the punishment meted out depended upon the severity of the infraction. Some players were not permitted to play in the spring game. Still others have yet to work off their punishment. Monken would not specify the players and coaches who were punished, nor the form of discipline allotted. He did, however, specify what went wrong and why.
“Where we fell short was at dinner on Saturday night when we sent the prospects and hosts out to the bus and they take the ride down the Palisades Parkway, which is a 40-minute trip down to the mall, and we stay in the building with the parents,” he said. “We eventually take the parents back to the hotel so when the guys arrive back we are there waiting for them. On that particular weekend, unknown to us, which is our fault, other cadets boarded the bus and went down to the Palisades Mall with them. We provide each of our hosts with $40 which is permitted by NCAA rules. The booster money I have no idea about. It all comes out of our budget. They went to the mall, found a place to hang out, ordered some beers and had some beers and came back on the bus. It wasn’t just our players and prospects, that is an NCAA violation, and we self reported that and it was one of the things we reported. It wasn’t something we hid and we knew we did it.
“I didn’t forget the NCAA rulebook on my way up here from Statesboro. I know the rules and it is my responsibility to monitor that. It was my responsibility and I take responsibility for it. As soon as we found out about it a week later, I had the cadet-athletes involved up here within an hour and we had a meeting. I informed them that I understood there was an incident and they acknowledged it and I told them that there would be punishment forthcoming and it was going to have to go beyond just me. In that instance we informed the appropriate personnel.”
Monken was clearly upset when discussing the matter Tuesday. With 25 years as a coach, he’s surely seen worse than some players treating recruits to a few beers. He joked about how Army has surely engaged in such recruiting methods in the past “given that we’ve been to 25 straight bowl games.”
As his team’s game Saturday is against Air Force – the first of Army’s two games in which they will compete for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy – Monken seemed more concerned not so much dealing with the controversy, but quickly making it history. With a record of 2-5 – including two straight losses and four of the last five games – his priorities remain on the field, not off.
“I am not going to worry about it,” he said. “It happened in January and I dealt with it in January. And we dealt with it all spring. The guys went through it with me and then they went through it again as they went through the investigation with the academy. Do you want me to punish them again? That’s what people are asking me to do. I’ve already done that. It is not a controversy or a distraction unless we allow it to be. It was a distraction in January and in the spring, but it’s not now. Now we have other things to focus on.”