BALTIMORE — The Georgia Bulldogs won two consecutive national championships with a 5-foot-11 former walk-on at quarterback. The offensive mind guiding Stetson Bennett through that double gauntlet belonged to a well-traveled coach named Todd Monken.
Now, the Ravens hope Monken will help coax championship-winning performances out of a far more gifted quarterback, Lamar Jackson. They’re hiring Monken, a 57-year-old Illinois native who has led two NFL offenses in addition to his expansive college work, to be their next offensive coordinator.
“Todd’s leadership and coaching acumen were evident from the beginning,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in a statement. “He has a proven track record for designing and teaching offensive systems that allow players to succeed at the highest level. We’re excited to get to work and begin building an offense that will help us compete for championships.”
Monken’s introduction will be complicated by the uncertainty around Jackson, who could become a free agent in March if the Ravens do not sign him to a lucrative extension or use the franchise tag to keep him in Baltimore. Monken might not know for months if he’s revamping the team’s offense for Jackson or for another quarterback.
Harbaugh said at the beginning of his search that Jackson’s input would factor into the hire: “I did ask Lamar about it, and he will be involved in it. I’ll keep him abreast to what’s going on, and I’m sure he’ll have some input along the way, but I know his focus — like he told me — is going to be on getting himself ready and getting his guys ready for next season.”
Monken will come to the Ravens off one of the most successful runs in recent college football history.
He will replace Greg Roman, who parted ways with the Ravens last month after his offense lost steam in the second half of the season for a second straight year. Roman’s four years as coordinator began with a bang, when his offense set a single-season rushing record and Jackson won NFL Most Valuable Player honors in 2019. But the Ravens did not score more than a single touchdown in any of their last six regular-season games in 2022 with Jackson sidelined by a knee injury.
Monken will be Harbaugh’s seventh offensive coordinator. As promised, the Ravens searched far and wide for Roman’s successor, with Harbaugh interviewing 14 candidates, many of them with recent experience as quarterbacks coaches or pass-game designers. Harbaugh has said he does not want the team’s offensive identity to change and that he’d like to retain some of the concepts that gave the Ravens the league’s most productive running attack under Roman.
Monken will be charged with reviving a passing game that jumped to a hot start in 2022 but ranked 28th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA over the second half of the season. At Georgia, Monken’s offense achieved the sort of balance Harbaugh yearns for, averaging 295.8 yards per game through the air and 205.8 on the ground last season on the way to a 15-0 record. Bennett became a star despite his unremarkable physical traits, throwing four touchdown passes and running for two more scores in Georgia’s 65-7 national championship bludgeoning of TCU.
“I think what you’re getting is a guy who isn’t married to an approach … a guy who’s a really pragmatic coach,” said Matt Stinchcomb, an ESPN analyst and former Georgia and NFL offensive lineman. “You can leverage your existing talent without just making a living on them. Some teams in college, if a guy’s really good, will just ride him into the ground. He doesn’t do that. He did a really good job this year of spreading the football around without ignoring the players that gave him the best chance to win. But he didn’t grind them down to a nub.”
Stinchcomb said he would be intrigued to see what Monken builds around Jackson after watching his resourcefulness with gifted, versatile playmakers such as Georgia tight end Brock Bowers.
“He was not scared to leverage that talent,” he said. “Fly sweeps to a tight end? You don’t see that ever, but you saw that in Georgia’s offense, and it worked. … I don’t think it’s just Lamar, though, gosh, if there was ever a versatile talent at quarterback, it’s Lamar Jackson. But it’s the balance of that roster and what he might be able to unlock around your center of gravity at that quarterback position. How can you weaponize what you have at quarterback even more with some of the creativity you bring to your other personnel groups?”
Before his success at Georgia, Monken served as offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns in 2019 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2016 through 2018. Quarterback Baker Mayfield threw 21 interceptions as the Browns ranked 22nd in points scored and total yards under Monken. His Tampa Bay offenses, featuring Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, were more productive but also turnover-prone.
Monken, whose cousin, Jeff, is the head coach at Army, was a quarterback himself at tiny Knox College in Illinois before he began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Grand Valley State in Michigan and then at Notre Dame. He climbed the ladder as a wide receivers coach at Louisiana Tech, Oklahoma State and LSU before his first NFL stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2007 to 2010. He went back to college as offensive coordinator for highflying Oklahoma State and took his only head coaching job, at Southern Miss, in 2013. After he went 13-25 in three seasons there, he went to the Buccaneers as coach Dirk Koetter’s offensive coordinator. He joined coach Kirby Smart’s staff at Georgia in January 2020, just as the Bulldogs were about to supplant Alabama as the dominant team in the SEC and in the country.
At Georgia, Monken quickly earned a reputation as an all-business coach with a gift for teaching young players and tailoring his game plan to his best personnel. With the nation’s most talented tight end, Brock Bowers, at his disposal, he went with heavier personnel groupings than he had during previous stops, when he was known for running high-octane “Air Raid” attacks.
“He’s done an incredible job calling plays when you think about the guys he’s had in,” Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart told DawgNation after Georgia had won the first of its back-to-back national championships. “He has taken tight ends and made them multiple. He’s taken backs, and he’s taken wideouts that weren’t early-season starters and done a really good job with them.”
Monken impressed not only Georgia fans and colleagues but former Bulldogs players who went on to the NFL. “Can’t wait to see Todd’s ingenuity on display with the talent on this [Ravens] roster,” former Georgia and Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson wrote on Twitter. “Perfect fit.”
Stinchcomb praised Monken’s humility in developing and trusting Bennett, whom he did not initially envision as his starting quarterback.
“They did not want to start Stetson Bennett,” he said. “But I think it’s their willingness to make a change that’s contrary to your previous assessment and not only do that, but then trust him to the extent they did. Stetson Bennett had a good amount more autonomy in that offense this year than he did previously.”
Smart thanked Monken for his work in a statement Tuesday announcing Mike Bobo as his successor at Georgia. “We are extremely thankful and appreciative of the three years Todd and his wife, Terri, have spent with our UGA family,” Smart said. “We wish them the best as he moves on to the Ravens organization.”