On Monday, the Cleveland Browns officially announced that Todd Monken will join Freddie Kitchens’ staff as the team’s new Offensive Coordinator. A year from now, another team could officially announce him as their new Head Coach. And that’s not a bad thing.
Monken, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator, has had nothing short of a meteoric rise through the coaching ranks over the past several years. I mean, we’re not talking Kliff Kingsbury fired-at-Texas-Tech-to-hired-as-Arizona-Cardinals-Head-Coach-in-less-than-six-weeks fast... but it’s in the same stratosphere. And there’s irony in how Monken built his reputation as a disciple of the Air Raid offense while his climb to relevance in today’s pass-heavy NFL seems to be soaring like it’s strapped to the back of a Tomahawk Missile.
Monken, who turns 53 in February, served as the Jacksonville Jaguars wide receivers coach from 2007-2010 before joining Mike Gundy’s staff as Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach at Oklahoma State from 2011-2012. It was there that Monken’s career began to take off as he helped Gundy orchestrate a high-powered offense with ex-first round draft picks Brandon Weeden (QB-Browns) and Justin Blackmon (WR-Jaguars). Monken was then named Head Coach at Southern Miss in 2013, where he took over a program that had gone 0-12 the year before, and led the Golden Eagles to finish first in their conference two seasons later.
In 2016, Monken decided to make the jump back to the NFL to join Dirk Koetter’s staff in Tampa Bay as Offensive Coordinator, though he was never the primary play-caller. That was until the 2018 pre-season. According to reports out of Tampa, Koetter allowed Monken to act as a temporary play-caller until the real action began in September and the plan was for Koetter to take back control of his offense, which had finished 18th in scoring the two previous seasons. However, something happened where Koetter was so impressed with what Monken did that he decided to turn the play-calling duties over to Monken full time.
With starting QB Jameis Winston serving a suspension for the first three games of the season due to allegations of him groping an Uber driver in the Spring of 2016, the Bucs and backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick started 2018 on fire. In two games with Monken calling the plays, the Buccaneers averaged 37.5 points per game — behind only the Chiefs who were averaging 39.3 ppg. In fact, things were going so well in Tampa the only question was when, not if, the “FitzMagic” would run out. Eventually it did and the Bucs, thanks to a shoddy defense and turnover issues plaguing both QBs, fell apart.
Despite their 5-11 record, which resulted in the dismissal of Koetter, the Buccaneers finished the 2018 season behind only the Chiefs and the Rams in yards per play (6.3), 3rd in yards per game (415.5), 1st in passing yards per game (320.3) and 12th in points scored per game (24.8) with Monken calling plays. This was enough to garner Monken, whose contract with the Bucs had expired, strong considerations for head coaching jobs around the league and, as it turns out, he may have been close to landing one.
per @RapSheet, Todd Monken came in second for both the Jets and Packers head coaching gigs before joining the Browns— Jordan Zirm (@clevezirm) January 14, 2019
Ultimately, Monken decided to join the staff in Cleveland “based on people”, according to new Head Coach Freddie Kitchens during his introductory press conference at FirstEnergy Stadium on Monday. Kitchens also settled the debate being had around town by reassuring the assembled media that he will still be calling plays for the Browns going forward. According to Kitchens, Monken is on board because “he understands that him learning something new is a hell of a lot easier than 90-something other guys” . This begs the question… what exactly will Todd Monken do?
Pro Football Focus Analyst Brendan Leister gave his thoughts.
My guess is Kitchens calls plays with Monken on the headset constantly discussing game flow, defensive tendencies, etc, etc. Monken also assists with installing game plan during the week & making sure the offense is prepared overall. https://t.co/nHs8TI2Xz4— Brendan Leister (@BrendanLeister) January 14, 2019
And if all goes according to plan, the Browns offense should hit the ground running (well, mostly throwing) in 2019 and light up the scoreboard on their way to their first post-season appearance since 2002. If that happens, Monken will once again be a highly sought after candidate as the next coaching cycle starts spinning in January of 2020. In all likelihood, he’ll probably be a one and done OC for the Browns. And more power to him.
But this is what happens in the NFL when a team gets good… their coaches get stolen away to take promotions elsewhere... something Browns fans are definitely not used to. If you want to have a Super Bowl contending football team, it just comes with the territory. This must be what other teams’ fans refer to as #GoodTeamProblems. It simply means the team is winning and doing what its supposed to do. i.e. The plan is working.
In the meantime, perhaps Monken can teach the finer details of his Air Raid offense to the younger members of Kitchens’ staff. One likely pupil is former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley, who was a graduate assistant at San Diego State before joining the Browns as Running Backs coach in 2018. (He has since been promoted to Quarterbacks Coach for the 2019 season). Lindley, already having been groomed in Kitchens’ offense during his time under Bruce Arians in Arizona could be seen as an in-house candidate to replace Monken in the event he leaves next January. And perhaps, with Monken by his side for the next 12 months, Lindley may just pick up a thing or two along the way.
But that’s a far way off and there’s no sense in worrying about that now. Until then, I suggest Browns fans just buckle up and enjoy the ride. 2019 is going to be fun!