Jeff Monken, Kansas, and the triple-option

Ian Boyd

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The other day Steven Godfrey wrote an interesting piece over on the Banner Society about Jeff Monken, Kansas, and the triple option.

In the article Godfrey included a few interesting nuggets which clearly stem from knowledge of the situation.


It would appear Monken wants the job, is willing to be flexible and not run a pure triple-option offense with the Jayhawks, but power brokers around the program are hesitant to go in this direction because of stigma attached to the offense.

There's not much else to say about Kansas these days other than the "should they just go triple?" discussion but there's actually a lot more to the discussion than has really seen the light of day thus far.

There's a few benefits and negatives to the move which go beyond the surface debates and Monken in particular brings an interesting dimension to the conversation both with his brand of triple-option football as well as his apparent flexibility on schemes and formations.

Advantages of the Jeff Monken, Army triple-option

Both Monken and Ken Niumatalolo are both disciples of Paul Johnson, who ran the flexbone for years at Navy, Georgia Southern, and Georgia Tech. However, you'll find some differences between them over recent years at rival programs.

For each of the last five years save for 2020, Niumatalolo's Navy team has been lead in rushing by the quarterback and the signal-caller has regularly received over 200 carries. The main reason this wasn't true in 2020 was because Navy didn't tackle in the offseason, or have much of an offseason in general, and didn't settle on a go-to quarterback.

Army has had one quarterback like that, the 5-11 and 205 pound Ahmad Bradshaw, but most seasons they've been paced in the run game by fullbacks like Darnell Woolfolk (5-9, 235), Connor Slomka (6-0, 240), and now Jakobi Buchanan (6-0, 260).

It's a sledgehammer style of football, pounding away inside on the "dive" dimension of the triple-option and regularly going for it on fourth down. They regularly rank in the top five teams nationally in time of possession (usually around 34-35 minutes per game) and will just grind away at both the clock and their opponents. Another adjunct to this style, aside from fielding excessively thick and bull-headed fullbacks, is their love of unbalanced formations. Army will throw all sorts of wonky sets at teams with extra size or numbers weighted to either flank.

Monken has been like the anti-Dan Mullen, who specializes in creating space for isolating his best athletes, finding ways to create scrums for his runners to be able to lower their heads and plow into whichever opposing defenders are least "about it."

There's a few advantages here which could be found for the Jayhawks. Most notably, finding a bunch of bludgeons and hammering away at Big 12 defensive fronts is an entirely realistic strategy for winning in Lawrence. Yes the Knights have caught opponents like Oklahoma or Michigan poorly prepared for option-sound defense in past seasons and yes Big 12 defenses would take it upon themselves to be more prepared if they saw Monken on their schedule every season.

However, as Mike Leach would always say about his wide line splits, "we practice it a lot more than they do." It's tough to have a strong, anti-option identity you only need on Saturday a year. And there's not a lot of competition for hard-nosed, 230+ pound, 4.8 running backs in recruiting. If those types of players formed the foundation of the offensive strategy, whether it was a true triple-option or some sort of hybrid system, Kansas would have a nice sales pitch for drawing them in.

Finally, as Godfrey noted, if defending Big 12 offenses is a serious problem you don't have great answers for then one solution is to just not. Hold the ball as long as you can, dirty up the game, and hope to grind out some wins in close-scoring games.

Disadvantages of the option

You rarely hear a good defense of why the triple-option may not be the best strategy for a program like Kansas whereas it has a permanent appeal for the service academies.

The service academies A) employ national recruiting and B) are fully committed to the triple-option due to its emphasis on cut blocking and how this allows them to field effective offensive lines despite having fitness and weight requirements for their cadets which preclude them from fielding 300+ pounders in the trenches.

Kansas is not fully committed to the triple-option. If this next hire doesn't work out they may want to go in a different direction in 3-4 years and would rather not have to draw in a new coach with a roster of 240 pound running backs and cut-blocking specialists along the offensive line. Obviously this could be where Monken would make some concessions in style and technique, but what's he really going to rely on when he's coaching for his job in year three or four and needs results?

What's more, the Jayhawks JUST finally got their roster and numbers back at a passable level. The previous two head coaches before Les Miles both destroyed the numbers late in their tenures (particularly Charlie Weiss) by loading up with JUCOs in make or break years and leaving the roster without a pipeline of high schoolers to develop on campus for a few seasons. Before being removed in disgrace for past sins, Miles did Kansas and their next head coach some major favors by emphasizing high school recruiting, developing young players, and rebuilding the scholarship numbers on campus.

If you bring in a guy like Jeff Monken who's going to run a hybrid-option offense...how many of those players stick? How many transfer out? Already a good many established upperclassmen have left the program through the portal, how many more key players might leave if they get a sense the team is going to critically alter the schemes and strategies? And how do you rebuild through the portal? You're not getting many transfers from the service academies, do you try and poach the top players from places like Georgia Southern or the FCS? Will those players help you win Big 12 games?

Finally there's branding and appeal. Will Kansas Jayhawk fans, notorious basketball enthusiasts, get excited about showing up to the stadium to watch their team try to grind out wins on the ground? At least with Air Raid coaches there was the chance for some excitement even if they were losing in years in which they had competent offense. Option proponents note Kansas can't do any worse and a 4-to-8 win team running the option probably fares better than a 1-to-4 win team running a more "exciting" system.

This is probably true. But what if Kansas could win 4-to-8 games a year without having to try and sell basketball fans on watching neanderball? A clever marketing scheme might have success with the option, particularly a clever hybrid version, but it's an easier sell to win with traditional football and the hope of one day being a destination for solid Texas recruits.

Were it me, I'd give Monken a shot unless I had a really intriguing candidate who had a more traditional style. I think Kansas needs creativity and an approach which makes the most of local talents rather than trying to be the school 3-stars from DFW who don't have better P5 offers might choose. They'd need to hybrid it up, Coastal Carolina style, and sell Jalon Daniels and some of the current players on campus to stick around and give it a shot.

It's a difficult dilemma for Kansas though and it'd be understandable if they don't want to take any risky shots in the dark with future realignment looming, the basketball program under a lot of scrutiny, and the NCAA system under legal assault.
 

fullbackdive

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Great writeup.

Theoretically, I think somebody can win at Kansas if, like you said, built they schemes around locally sourced talent. Still seems like a terrible job to take because the athletic department's politics/power dynamics are so muddled. Wouldn't be shocked if the football program flounders till Self retires/dies.
 

Ian Boyd

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Great writeup.

Theoretically, I think somebody can win at Kansas if, like you said, built they schemes around locally sourced talent. Still seems like a terrible job to take because the athletic department's politics/power dynamics are so muddled. Wouldn't be shocked if the football program flounders till Self retires/dies.
I dunno if self makes a difference. They’ll hire another big time coach after he’s gone.
 

bowman93

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How much can you really “hybridize” the triple option? With limited practice time, would it be possible to install anything beyond maybe adding a few basic RPOs and some quick game stuff if your main focus is to be at heart, a triple option team? I guess you could do some stuff with the QB run game out of the pistol or something?

It just seems like there isn’t enough time to teach such a wide array of schemes that you may only run a dozen times a game just as a change up to your normal triple option offense.
But maybe I’m wrong, all I know is that I’d rather Texas not have to take practice time to prepare to defend the triple option and then also worry about our front 7 players getting their knees taken out from all the cut blocking, lol.
 

Ian Boyd

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How much can you really “hybridize” the triple option? With limited practice time, would it be possible to install anything beyond maybe adding a few basic RPOs and some quick game stuff if your main focus is to be at heart, a triple option team? I guess you could do some stuff with the QB run game out of the pistol or something?

It just seems like there isn’t enough time to teach such a wide array of schemes that you may only run a dozen times a game just as a change up to your normal triple option offense.
But maybe I’m wrong, all I know is that I’d rather Texas not have to take practice time to prepare to defend the triple option and then also worry about our front 7 players getting their knees taken out from all the cut blocking, lol.
Well you could get in the shotgun rather than under center, emphasize unbalanced sets with some normal runs, basically do what Coastal Carolina was doing.

Get out of the flexbone and in the gun and then mix in some spread spacing or bubbles.
 
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bowman93

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Well you could get in the shotgun rather than under center, emphasize unbalanced sets with some normal runs, basically do what Coastal Carolina was doing.

Get out of the flexbone and in the gun and then mix in some spread spacing or bubbles.
Gotcha, I admit I haven’t watched any Coastal Carolina games, but that makes sense. Just seems like a lot to drill down. But yeah, you’re totally right that they could corner the market on dudes who fit their system but wouldn’t be P5 players in more traditional offenses. There are a lot of high school players in Texas who fit that bill, and Lawrence isn’t that bad of a college town, so I could see that sell being successful.
 
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kevinbelt

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How much can you really “hybridize” the triple option? With limited practice time, would it be possible to install anything beyond maybe adding a few basic RPOs and some quick game stuff if your main focus is to be at heart, a triple option team? I guess you could do some stuff with the QB run game out of the pistol or something?
You don't even have to teach a lot of actual plays. Just line up in some different formations with a variety of different motions, and that would go a long way. Then add in some basic stuff - bubble screen, jet sweep, mesh, TE middle of field read - and that would be a pretty effective offense that doesn't require elite talent at any position. This is basically what Nebraska used to do, except from the I instead of the spread. They ran the same dozen or so plays (including a fair amount of non-option called runs and more passes than you remember) out of 100 different formations. I don't think Osborne got enough credit in that respect.

Having a QB who can complete a pass more than 10 yards downfield would also open a lot up, and like, I know not everyone is Grayson McCall, but I have to believe that there are a couple of option QBs somewhere out there with the arm to complete a competent glance or fade. I also wonder how hard it would be to take a mobile but non-option QB and teach him to execute the option. Pretty much every QB in the world can execute the shotgun ride-and-decide zone read at this point, which would be the first read in the gun option, and a lot of teams have the sprint option out of the gun in their playbook, so it's not like they'd be starting at zero. I'm thinking of someone like Ian Book at Notre Dame, who was an accurate but fairly weak-armed passer and an underrated athlete.

I will restate my desire to see someone use a motioning receiver on a jet sweep as the dive back in a triple option.
 

techhoopsguy

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Awesome stuff.

If I’m Kansas, and the fans won’t accept a triple option hire, I’m hiring Kevin Kelley from Pulaski Academy in Arkansas.

If our current regime doesn’t work out, I wish Tech would have the balls to hire him (and preferably soon so he can bring his RB with him).
 

stilesbbq

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Finally got around to reading this. Good job of giving credence to both sides. Before I thought the anti option crowd were just cowards

Now I cant stop thinking about big Doug Brooks being a Big 12 option FB
 

lhorns

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I've seen a lot of slot-T stuff mixed with spread. It can actually work pretty well.
 

lhorns

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Sort of funny since Monken's brother, Todd, is a stud OC (just took the OC job at Georgia) known for a great passing game. He ripped people to shreds and made Brandon Weeden a first round pick at QB.
Jeff and Todd together could be really interesting.... Air Raid concepts with a 260 pound fullback running fade routes.... :)

I'm sure the Paul Johnson experiment at Georgia Tech isn't exactly helping Monken overcome the fear of trying the triple option with a non-service, Power Five school.
 

lhorns

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If anyone is bored enough to want to read more about the Kansas coaching search, check this out..... Some interesting names.

LINK: http://www2.kusports.com/weblogs/tale-tait/2021/apr/16/where-things-stand-with-the-ku-football-/

If I'm Fritz, this is NOT the job I jump for - not at his age - unless the money is just too retirement level good.

Leipold and Creighton would be interesting choices from the doing more with less category. If you can win at Buffalo ..... welp, unless you are Turner Gill.

Would Doeren jump for THIS job? Is it any better than NC State? Really? I just don't see it.

Emmett would be a big gamble, but would likely limit portal losses and as HC his ties to Dallas recruiting would make geographic sense (seven hour drive to Lawrence, Kan isn't THAT far) and be a big plus on his resume.

Herman? That would be interesting. He is still pretty young and certainly has some ability. I DO think Herman will get another chance - very possibly a good one. I DO think he can be an outstanding HC - - - IF he can permit himself to actually learn and overcome the reported personal/personality issues.


The Hot Names
You can speculate all you want about who’s involved, who wants the job, who might be the best fit and so on. And doing that might create a fairly lengthy list. But there’s little doubt that there are at least three current head coaches who are very interested in talking with Kansas about the position. They’re on everyone’s list and you should expect all three to be involved deep into the process.

• Army head coach Jeff Monken (54) – Whether you’ve fallen in love with the triple option idea or would prefer Monken bring a more modern offense to town with him (which is sounds like he would do), the fact remains that the man is a proven football coach who consistently coaches some of the toughest teams in college football and prides himself on discipline and execution.

• Buffalo head coach Lance Leipold (56) – Stop with the nonsense about Turner Gill coming from Buffalo. There is absolutely no connection between the two coaches, and no one should be scared off by Leipold’s current position. What should matter is the fact that he’s actually won there at a much better rate than Gill did before he became a hot name and the fact that he believes he can win at Kansas, too.

• Tulane head coach Willie Fritz (61) – Yes, Fritz is a Kansas native who has been interested in the job before. No, Goff and Fritz were not at Tulane at the same time. Beyond that, Fritz has done well at Tulane and is very well respected in the coaching profession.

You can read more about all three of the aforementioned potential candidates in Benton Smith's breakdown from late March.

Other Names Worth Watching
There almost certainly will be other coaches involved in KU’s search than the three listed above, and while that opens the door to a whole bunch of other names, there are a few who stand out in that sort of second tier above the rest.

• Nevada head coach Jay Norvell (58) – Norvell is one of the most popular “other names” I keep hearing, and his recent success at Nevada (25-22 since 2017 with 3 bowl appearances) and past history in the Big 12 Conference make him worth a look. He’s also on the right end of the pay scale, making less than a million per year to coach the Wolfpack.

• NC State head coach Dave Doeren (49) – Doeren’s been up for the job before, and there’s enough reason to believe he’d still be interested if KU came calling this time around. But the biggest obstacle this time around is likely money. In addition to recently signing and extension that will pay him $3.5 million per year starting in 2021 and running through 2025, Doeren’s buyout at NC State is more than $6 million. Beyond that, Doeren has it rolling at NC State and receives a ton of support for the program from the administration.

• Eastern Michigan head coach Chris Creighton (52) – The former Ottawa University football coach (1997-2000) has done his share of rebuilding, both at EMU via three bowl appearances in a four-year span (2016, 2018 & 2019) and at Drake, Wabash and Ottawa before that.

• Texas A&M OC Darrell Dickey (61) - Former K-Stater who played for the Wildcats from 1979-82, Dickey has been a key part of Jimbo Fisher's success at A&M since 2018. Known as a time-of-possession type of coach, Dickey's offenses have valued ball control and physicality. Has experience as an OC at several programs (Memphis, Utah State, New Mexico and SMU) and also was the head coach at North Texas from 1998-2006.

If KU Goes A Different Direction
Remember, the man doing the hiring on this one is a 41-year-old, first-time AD who just saw the powers that be at KU take a chance on him. Could he be looking to do the same by going with a less-heralded, first-time head coach? I wouldn’t bet on it. But if it starts to move that way, here are a few names to watch.

• Wisconsin DC Jim Leonhard (38) – On staff at his alma mater since 2016, and the Badgers’ DC since 2017, the longtime NFL safety has started to make a name for himself in college coaching. Is close with current Baylor coach Dave Aranda and has been honored as one of the top assistants in college football for his unique approach, natural charisma and confidence.

• Tennessee OC Alex Golesh (36) – Armed with vast experience in a variety of positions and places in college football coaching since 2004, Golesh is another outside-the-box thinker who has made a name for himself in the college game with his innovative approach to both offense and recruiting. Before joining Josh Heupel at Central Florida in 2020 (and now at Tennessee), Golesh was the tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator for Matt Campbell at Iowa State.

• Kansas Interim HC Emmett Jones (45) - Goff noted in his email to donors on Thursday that Jones would be a candidate for the job, and the high-energy interim coach that has led the Jayhawks through spring practice is a wildly popular choice among players currently on the roster. In addition to that, Jones, who served as the wide receivers coach at Texas Tech under Kliff Kingsbury prior to coming to Kansas, has been one of the most successful recruiters in the Big 12 during the past several seasons because of his strong ties to the Dallas area and the state of Texas in general.

• Illinois Associate HC Kevin Kane (37) – The former KU player and assistant coach who is now the associate head coach at Illinois, Kane has been one of the most popular coaches with direct KU ties to come up during talk of the search. In addition to landing at Illinois for the upcoming season, the Rockhurst High grad who starred at KU from 2002-05 has been on staffs at Wisconsin, Northern Illinois and SMU and appears destined to become a head coach at some point.

Don’t Waste Your Time
Believe it or not, I’ve actually seen a few of these names kicked around. We won’t go into them a whole lot because that would contradict the title of this section. But I figured it was worth mentioning them so you did not waste another minute hoping, wishing or wondering about their candidacy at KU.

• Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald – Goff and Fitzgerald have a great relationship and Fitz is a great coach. But he’s not leaving his alma mater for Kansas.

• Former KU HC Mark Mangino – We’ve probably reached the point where this does not even need to be said, but in case there are still a few of you dreamers out there, Mangino’s not coming back. He should be — and possibly has been — involved in the search as a de facto consultant, but nothing more than that.

• Former Texas and Houston HC Tom Herman – There’s a lot to like about Herman on the surface, both in the sense of his recent familiarity with the conference and the fact that he could be extra motivated after getting fired by Texas. But I’ve heard that he may not be quite ready to jump back into the business of running a program and may elect to be more patient as he waits for his next opportunity.
 
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lhorns

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Kyron Johnson (LB), Kwamie Lassiter (WR), Kenny Logan (KR/PR), Karon Prunty (DB)

For those of you fellow vultures wondering if Kansas has any players we would have ANY interest in pilfering.... maybe, but unlikely. They had exactly ZERO first or second team A-C players. They only had four get honorable mention A-C.

Don't think you take a return specialist unless he is special AND you don't have good options already on campus.
Johnson and Lassiter are Covid/extra year seniors this season. Pretty good but nothing special stats.
Prunty started all year as a true freshman and has pretty decent size. So I guess if you took one, he would be your most likely. Wouldn't bet on it though.
 

DuvalHorn

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Sounds like this is close to being done. Lance Leipold is still the name getting the most buzz.
 

kevinbelt

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Except for the lack of recruiting base (which is also true of KU), Nebraska is a much better job. No in-state rival, easier path to conference chamionship game, and guaranteed national media attention with even modest success.

Besides, I’m not sure how hot Frost’s seat is yet.
 
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fullbackdive

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Except for the lack of recruiting base (which is also true of KU), Nebraska is a much better job. No in-state rival, easier path to conference chamionship game, and guaranteed national media attention with even modest success.

Besides, I’m not sure how hot Frost’s seat is yet.
Meant that tongue-in-cheek (mostly). Frost's seat isn't too hot yet, but Leipold himself could make it significantly hotter if Buffalo beats Nebraska in Lincoln this fall--which isn't that far fetched.
 
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DuvalHorn

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Seems like Monken is a legit option as well. I think either is a good candidate.
 
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Ian Boyd

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Meant that tongue-in-cheek (mostly). Frost's seat isn't too hot yet, but Leipold himself could make it significantly hotter if Buffalo beats Nebraska in Lincoln this fall--which isn't that far fetched.
Things are going to get lit in a hurry if that happens.
 

stevehorn

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Great writeup.

Theoretically, I think somebody can win at Kansas if, like you said, built they schemes around locally sourced talent. Still seems like a terrible job to take because the athletic department's politics/power dynamics are so muddled. Wouldn't be shocked if the football program flounders till Self retires/dies.
What scheme are you going to build around locally sourced talent?
 

stevehorn

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Leipold will build a zone running game. He'll figure out if they're better at inside zone or outside zone and then that play will comprise 50% of the offense.
Where is that locally sourced talent that will make it competitive in the Big 12 that's not at Kansas State?
 

stevehorn

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Mangino did exactly this at both Kansas and Iowa State. It's not about talent it's about development.
Mangino didn't do it at Kansas with Kansas kids. For example, there were 28 Texas high school kids on the 07 roster, plus plenty from states besides Kansas. Meier was the only top player on the 07 squad from Kansas.

Without looking, I bet he didn't do it at Iowa State with kids from Iowa though that state does produce more talent than Kansas.
 

Ian Boyd

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Mangino didn't do it at Kansas with Kansas kids. For example, there were 28 Texas high school kids on the 07 roster, plus plenty from states besides Kansas. Meier was the only top player on the 07 squad from Kansas.

Without looking, I bet he didn't do it at Iowa State with kids from Iowa though that state does produce more talent than Kansas.
The 2007 Kansas O-line:

LT: Anthony Collins. 2-star converted DE from DFW
LG: Adrian Mayes: Walk-on from Kansas
OC: Ryan Cantrell: 2-star from Houston
RG: Chet Hartley: 3-star from KS JUCO
RT: Cesar Rodriguez: 2-star from Cali.

The 2015 Iowa State O-line:

LT: Jake Campos: 4-star from IA
LG: Oni Omoile: 3-star from DFW
OC: Jamison Lalk: 3-star from IA
RG: Daniel Burton: 3-star from OK
RT: Brock Dagel: 3-star from IA
 

stevehorn

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The 2007 Kansas O-line:

LT: Anthony Collins. 2-star converted DE from DFW
LG: Adrian Mayes: Walk-on from Kansas
OC: Ryan Cantrell: 2-star from Houston
RG: Chet Hartley: 3-star from KS JUCO
RT: Cesar Rodriguez: 2-star from Cali.

The 2015 Iowa State O-line:

LT: Jake Campos: 4-star from IA
LG: Oni Omoile: 3-star from DFW
OC: Jamison Lalk: 3-star from IA
RG: Daniel Burton: 3-star from OK
RT: Brock Dagel: 3-star from IA
That's five out of 22 positions. What are the rest? Also on the 07 Kansas OL, 3 of the 5 are not from Kansas.