There are very few questions concerning recruiting that college coaches can answer because of NCAA rules and regulations. But, on Monday at his weekly media conference first year Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken fielded one he could answer.
Monken was asked if the Eagles' current 21-game losing streak has started to affect recruiting. It would have been easy to give some coach speak and blow it off and move on as an important (and winnable) game against FAU looms at weeks end. But, Monken didn't do that, and in his answer we find a little bit more about the man behind the program.
"Even with this year, 18 of the last 20 years, Southern Miss has had a winning season.," Monken said. "We've been to 14 bowl games. We'll put that up against anybody."
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Most coaches would have left it there, they wouldn't have went into what they were really thinking. Monken is different.
"Are people going to pick at you? Of course, that's the here and now," he said.
Monken is referring to the negative recruiting that programs across the region are currently using against the Eagles. Program in C-USA as well as Sun Belt and lower tier SEC teams are using Southern Miss' current struggles against them on the recruiting trail.
Monken understands that's just how the game is played, but he believes that Southern Miss' struggles are only temporary.
"They better pick at us now," he said. "They better get us now because this is a great place. Kids want to come here. Sure it's difficult. You have to fight off people who are talking about the last couple of years. "
Monken points to Southern Miss' historical success in winning seasons, championships, bowl games and overall depth and quality of the program.
He believe that the teams using these negative recruiting tactics can't measure up to Southern Miss over the long haul.
"That's the only thing they have," he continued. "They can't speak about the tradition. They can't speak about the history of this program. There's no way they can. That's something we have to speak to, why I wanted to be the head coach here. "
But, as always Monken has a realistic view of where Southern Miss is right now and he didn't shy away from that either. He understands his place and the place of his staff in rebuilding Southern Miss on the field and on the recruiting trail.
"Of course it's going to be difficult because kids are into the here and now," he said. "What do I see now? I don't remember five years ago. I get that. At the end of the day, they're either going to buy our program, buy me, or they're not."
Monken also understands that there are kids out there that want a challenge, that want to be part of something special.
" It's our job to sell our program, sell us and where we are headed," he said. "Do (recruits) want to be a part of that? Do they want to be a part of bringing the program back to where it has been and is going to be?"
Monken plans to bring in a mix of high school and junior college players this year after being high school dominate this past year.
"Ultimately, you take the best player available," he said. "If you just take a player just because he's a junior college or high school player, you're making a mistake."
Finding the right prospects for the program is also a big priority for Monken.
"It's hard to find 25 guys that you automatically look on tape and say that's who I want.," he said. "I don't care where you're at....We're all looking for the same player. We've got to find what niche we're looking for, look at the positives of what a player can do, not what they can't do, and then assess what they're about."
Monken has repeated on and off the record that there are several factors that are very important to him when he begins evaluating players.
"What's their core makeup? Do they like football? Are they competitive? Are they smart?"
Although nowhere close to retirement age, Monken is building for the long haul at Southern Miss and that's how he's approaching every aspect of the program.
"I'm not building for a year for now or two years from now," he said. "I'm building for 10-15 years and getting this program back on track."
Southern Miss currently has 12 commitments for the '14 recruiting class, that includes six prospects each from Mississippi and Alabama.
DB - Quade Alexander - Florence, Ala.
DB - Cornell Armstrong - Bassfield, Miss.
OL - Thomas Collins - Hinds CC
DE - Jon Michael Edwards - Montgomery, Ala.
ATH - Demetrius Kemp - Demopolis, Ala.
DB - Xavier Marion - Ridgeland, Miss.
ATH - Curtis Mikell - Bassfield, Miss.
DT - Gary Moore - Mobile, Ala.
ATH - Picasso Nelson - Hattiesburg, Miss.
QB - Gunner Roach - Mobile, Ala.
WR - Korey Robertson - Greenwood, Miss.
LB - Darian Yancey - Auburn, Ala.
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