Golden Eagles feeling upbeat

Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken closed his first season with his first victory. (AP Photo)

Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken closed his first season with his first victory. (AP Photo)

By Steve Hunt

Special to the Journal

IRVING, Texas – When Todd Monken became the new Southern Miss head coach in late 2012, the former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator figured his first win would come before the final game of his first season.

But when the Golden Eagles beat UAB 62-27 on Nov. 30 in Birmingham, not only did Monken have his first win, but Southern Miss had something it hadn’t possessed in a long time – momentum heading into the offseason and spring football, something which would hopefully carry over into the Aug. 30 opener at Mississippi State.

“Winning the last game brought a lot of juice to finish the season,” Monken said on Wednesday during the 2014 Conference USA Football Kickoff. “I think the things our players learned and our coaches learned about why we play the game, the ways that we can do it better, irrespective of winning or losing, how we treat our players.”

However, that is not to say the Southern Miss head coach didn’t feel that the Golden Eagles’ 1-11 record wasn’t an accurate reflection of how things went in in 2013, because it was.

“We earned the 1-11. There’s no way getting around it. Early on in the season, we had a couple games we should have won and didn’t,” Monken said. “Confidence is a powerful thing and we lost some of that early on and that took a while to get back. But no one’s going to bail us out but us. No one’s going to feel sorry for you. No, we’ve got to do it. We’ve got to dig ourselves out of this hole and we will.”

One reason he’s so optimistic is because this season marks the first since 2011, the final year under Larry Fedora before he departed for North Carolina, that Southern Miss will have had the same head coach in consecutive seasons. And Monken feels stability is something every successful program must have.

“Well, I think for the first time in four years, our players have the same head coach, same offense, defense and special teams,” Monken said. “So I think there’s a comfort there in our terminology. I think there’s a comfort there in terms of trust. We talk about an alignment of our present AD and coach, first time in a while that’s been the case, which allows you to pull in the same direction. I think there’s a lot of positives moving forward that I don’t think you realized maybe the year before.”

No Golden Eagle knows that better than senior wide receiver Markese Triplett, who has already played for three head coaches. Like his teammates, he was longing for some stability heading into 2014.

Embracing stability

“Yeah, it’s tough. Since I’ve been here, I’ve had four different wide receivers coaches,” Triplett said. “So the stability of just having a constant leader and a constant motivator around when you need him and having his number where you can text him, it’s a good deal. I just love that.”

Monken has been on the job for around 18 months, but it’s clear just how much his players have bought into not only his system and philosophy, but also into him as a person.

A good example is senior defensive back Jacorius Cotton, who redshirted last season due to academic issues resulting largely from him becoming a father for the first time.

And Cotton admits that after missing last season, he definitely heads into 2014 with something to prove, but gives Monken a great deal of credit for everything he did to help him through a tough 2013.

“Coach Monken is a real players’ coach,” Cotton said. “He tries to do the utmost for our team, tries to do as much as he can to help us be a better person, be a better player and be a better student. I feel like coach Monken is always there for us. Coach Monken really helped me out a lot and guided me through last year.”

But as Monken heads into Year 2, it’s clear there is nowhere he’d rather be than in Hattiesburg ready to spearhead a big turnaround.

“Over the last 80 years, it’s the 20th-winningest program in football, so there’s a reason why it’s won,” Monken said. “There’s no barriers to success, and that’s where you want to be as a coach.”