ATLANTA — Stetson Bennett, Georgia’s two-time champion quarterback, is pursuing an NFL career. Wide receiver Adonai Mitchell, playoff hero, returned home to play at Texas. Another top pass-catcher, transfer Rodarius Thomas, is suspended by UGA as he waits for his day in court following an arrest on accusations of domestic violence. Two starters on Georgia’s offensive line declared for the NFL draft.
That’s a lot of attrition for Georgia’s national championship offense. Kirby Smart’s national championship machine is expected to keep humming despite the losses. That might be harder if one of its chief engineers, offensive coordinator Todd Monken, leaves for the NFL after three years in Athens.
The chances of that happening are higher than ever, if only because of the math.
There will be at least 13 NFL offensive coordinators hired in the current cycle. More openings will be created if current OCs fill any of the five available NFL head coach positions. The Patriots on Tuesday hired ex-Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien to run their offense. That leaves 12 other teams that are either looking for a new coordinator or a head coach who ultimately will hire one.
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The chances are good that more than one of those teams is considering Monken. One of them apparently has decided it wants him. NFL Network recently reported that Monken is Tampa Bay’s top target for its open position. Monken was the Bucs’ OC from 2016-18, then was out of a job when head coach Dirk Koetter was fired.
Monken’s misfortune was Georgia’s good luck. He’s probably the best play-caller in college football. Monken transformed the Bulldogs into a spread offense while maintaining Smart’s beloved “man ball” characteristics. Monken overcame his admitted initial skepticism about Bennett’s ability and built the offense around his many strengths.
If Monken leaves for the NFL, Georgia’s reputation and pay scale mean the Bulldogs will pick his replacement from a large candidate pool. Mike Bobo already is on staff as an analyst. He’s been coordinator at three SEC schools, including Georgia under Mark Richt.
But it’s been a long time since Bobo ran a high-scoring offense. We already know what Monken can do as Georgia’s play-caller. The results have been spectacular. Monken helped Smart revive his stale offensive approach and catch up with rivals who’d left the Bulldogs behind.
Monken can afford to be picky with his next job. He’s college football’s highest-paid assistant at $2.1 million per year through 2024. Monken probably could negotiate another pay bump with UGA if he stays.
Before the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Monken said he’s happy at Georgia because he wants to win and likes working for Smart. But he added that he likes the money and would “never say never” to other opportunities. NFL teams will come knocking with big cash in hand, and Monken wouldn’t owe UGA any money if he takes an NFL coordinator job.
Monken has turned down NFL interest before to stay at Georgia. The difference now is there are an extraordinary number of coordinator positions open. Some don’t look very attractive from the outside, but there are only 32 NFL teams. Coaches who want to be in the big league can’t be too selective.
The benefits of being an NFL coordinator are obvious. Success as an NFL offensive coordinator is the path to becoming an NFL head coach (at least it is if you’re white). That’s the pinnacle of the profession. Lack of job security is a potential drawback. Tampa Bay’s OC job is open because Byron Leftwich took the fall for Tom Brady’s decline.
Monken knows all the variables. He built Southern Miss into a winner as head coach before leaving for the Bucs. After the Bucs let him and Koetter go, Monken took over as Browns offensive coordinator. Monken was part of a dysfunctional organization in Cleveland. He reportedly told opponents before games that the team was a “mess” and that head coach Freddie Kitchens didn’t follow the plan that was developed with staff during the week.
Monken said one benefit of his Georgia job is that he runs the whole show on offense. He didn’t call the plays in Cleveland and only did it for his final season in Tampa. Monken could get a chance to do it again for an NFL team. Among the 12 teams looking for a coordinator, only the Rams have a head coach who also calls the offensive plays.
Two of the open NFL offensive coordinator positions stand out above the others. The Ravens and Chargers are playoff teams with good quarterbacks in place. Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson is a former league MVP. The Chargers need a play-caller who can maximize the potential of Justin Herbert, who was selected for the Pro Bowl in his second season.
The other 10 available offensive coordinator positions are with losing teams. Most of them have questions at quarterback. That’s how it usually goes. Winning teams that score a lot of points don’t typically fire their play-caller.
We’ll see if Monken gets formally offered Tampa Bay’s coordinator job or any of the other 11 open positions. The NFL hiring cycle is slow now because some candidates are still working in the playoffs. The pace should pick up after this weekend’s conference championship games.
Monken should be in demand. He’s already got a great job at Georgia. The Bulldogs will have to rebuild their offense with a new quarterback. Monken already sort of did that when Bennett took over for JT Daniels. Monken can refashion Georgia’s offense in 2023, score a lot of points and make a lot of money.
But Monken turns 57 next month. It’s rare that so many NFL coordinator positions are open. If he’s offered any of them, then staying in Athens to wait for a better situation risks missing out for good. That’s why Georgia’s offensive attrition this offseason could include its great play-caller.