Georgia Southern University head football coach Jeff Monken watches as the sound of shoulder pads colliding fires up his team during practice. Monken is never alone on the sideline, but this year he has two familiar faces by his side as he watches players go through drills.
Former starting quarterback Jaybo Shaw and former running back Robert Brown were once key playmakers on Monken’s playoff teams, but now as members of his coaching staff, their biggest contributions come in the days leading up to games.
Shaw and Brown have a unique relationship with the man that held them to a standard of excellence throughout their careers. Shaw’s playing days came to an end once he graduated, but Brown’s career was cut short by injuries.
“He is still a respectable coach and man, he put me in the weight room to be able to work with the players,” Brown said. “Just being able to still be around the team shows that he sees something in me, and shows a lot about his character and the person he is, I appreciate that.”
Monken’s program has many former players contributing in some way. One of the words that came up the most when Shaw and Brown spoke of their former coach was humility. This humility was on display when GSU broke ground on the renovations to Allen E. Paulson Stadium on June 6.
Monken was one of 11 that helped break ground over the summer but his experience came with some added mystique when he was given the opportunity to use the same shovel legendary former GSU head football coach Erk Russell used when he broke ground on the original Paulson Stadium.
“It was with mixed emotions that I picked that shovel up to move that first load of dirt because it was the same shovel that Erk Russell used. It was truly humbling to pick up that shovel because I didn’t even know it existed”, Monken said.
Monken drives his team to be better football players every day but when they can’t suit up anymore he wants his players to take one thing with them above all the x’s and o’s.
I want my players to make sure that they “serve other people,” Monken said.
When Monken left the Georgia Institute of Technology to take the head coaching position at GSU Shaw followed. He wanted to follow the man Monken is, not the coach he was becoming.
“He is incomparable with anybody else I’ve been around. There are reasons why I left Tech to come to Georgia Southern, the biggest one was because of coach Monken,” Shaw said. “The day that he called and said he had an offensive GA position open up I took it the second he offered it to me. I’ll be forever grateful to him for this opportunity.”
Shaw thinks following Monken to GSU was the best decision he made in his football career, but he knows that his former coach helped mold the man he is today off of the football field.
“He is like another father figure, just another reason why I left Tech to come here and learn from him,” Shaw said. “He has taught me a lot about football but probably even more about life.”
Monken’s integrity and selflessness not only make players want to follow him, those qualities also make a man like assistant head coach Mitch Ware, with 30 years of coaching experience proud to be a part of what Monken is doing at GSU.
“He is the best head football coach I’ve ever worked for,” Ware said. “Number one I think he is a good solid person, I think family comes first for him, I think he cares about the kids, I think he cares about the staff and I think his overall projection is that he comes last.”