Army is playing for a specific piece of history this year
Commander In Chief’s Trophy? Check.
Wins over Navy? Check.
Bowl wins? Check.
10-win regular season? Check.
11-win full season? Check.
Jeff Monken has already made a large name for himself in the annals of West Point football history. What Paul Johnson did for Navy at the start of this century, Monken has done in recent years. He has taken a downtrodden program desperate for a new era of success after years of misery, and delivered a new golden age.
Army won 11 games last year… and came within an eyelash of winning on the road in Norman, Oklahoma, against the mighty Sooners, a team which won its fourth straight Big 12 Conference championship and made the College Football Playoff for the second straight season, the third in four years.
Army. Yes, Army. The Black Knights’ ball-control offense and superbly-coached defense frustrated and flummoxed the Sooners in 60 regulation minutes. Oklahoma could not solve or defeat the Black Knights in regulation time. They barely escaped in overtime, when time of possession and 10-minute drives aren’t part of the picture.
Imagine Army going 12-1 with a win over Oklahoma. You could already make the claim that the 2018 Army team was the best service-academy football team in the nearly 50 years since Air Force made the last New Year’s Day (now New Year’s Six, formerly Bowl Championship Series) bowl game appearance in the 1971 Sugar Bowl against Tennessee. Had Army beaten OU, the argument would have been sealed beyond all doubt or differentiation.
Jeff Monken has already done so much to change the story and trajectory of Army football. Now his job is to deepen this Golden Age and make it last on the banks of the Hudson River.
One very profound way in which he can do that in 2019? Become the first-ever Army football coach to win the Commander in Chief’s Trophy three straight years.
You have to be an elite coach to dominate the CIC Trophy Series on a higher level.
The Air Force coach who has won three or more CIC Trophies in a row is Fisher DeBerry, a legitimately great coach.
The Navy coach who has won three or more CIC Trophies is Paul Johnson, a legitimately great coach. Both men are — and always will be — remembered fondly by fans and alumni at their respective service academies.
George Welsh (Navy, 1978) and Ken Niumatalolo (2008 until the present) also forged highly successful periods in the CIC Trophy Series. Welsh, who died in January of this year, will always be remembered as a man who had a brilliant football mind. Niumatalolo has done so much to sustain what Johnson built in Annapolis. His legacy is secure, regardless of what might happen this upcoming season or in the 2020s.
Troy Calhoun of Air Force (this decade) and Jim Young of Army (in the 1980s) also did well in the CIC Trophy Series. Calhoun won four CIC Trophies in a seven-season span. Young won three in a five-year span before DeBerry began a dynastic run of CIC dominance in 1989.
Not a single man has flourished in this series over the past 40 years without achieving something substantial in the football world. Not one of the men in the last 40 years to succeed in CIC competition is regarded as a mediocre (or worse) coach. Every CIC coaching success story dating back to Welsh in the late 1970s reveals a high-quality head coach.
That, in many ways, is what Jeff Monken is coaching for this season.
Yes, once any team tastes success after lacking it for a long time, the culture of wishing and hoping turns into a culture of expectation, of knowing how to win. In that sense, winning the CIC Trophy in 2019 is merely what is expected. It is the business this program is supposed to take care of. That is understood.
Yet, in the midst of merely “taking care of business,” one should still allow for some excitement and a sense of fun. How richly satisfying it would be if Army finally wins three CIC Trophies in a row, doing under Monken what Air Force (DeBerry) and Navy (Johnson) did.
Call it the trinity. Call it the rule of three. Call it whatever you want.
If Army can win the Commander in Chief’s Trophy this season, a previously empty box dating all the way back to the beginning of this series in the early 1970s will finally be checked.
Everyone in West Point will take note of this achievement if the Black Knights can secure it.