Tech downplays assistant coaches' reported interest in vacancies

ATLANTA — On a day when he answered casual questions from fans at the Chick-fil-A Bowl’s first pregame news conference, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson also found himself replying to a few more serious inquiries.

As Johnson and his Yellow Jackets prepare for a New Year’s Eve game against the LSU Tigers at the Georgia Dome, two of his assistant coaches have reportedly been in communication with two FCS programs and one FBS team for head-coaching vacancies.

Last week, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette and Alexandria (La.) Town Talk reported that A-backs and special teams coach Jeff Monken had applied for coaching positions at Illinois State and Northwestern State in Louisiana.

Early Monday afternoon, the Peoria Journal Star’s Web site, as well as the sites of several other central Illinois newspapers, reported that Purdue defensive coordinator Brock Spack had filled the Illinois State position.

Following Georgia Tech’s practice Monday afternoon, Monken declined comment on either opening.

When asked late Monday morning, Johnson said he wasn’t aware that Monken or any member of his staff was scouring any head-coaching openings.

“I don’t know anything. It is that time of year,” Johnson said. “My take is, if guys can better themselves in this profession and find something that’s better for their families and for their careers, I’m all for it. I’ll be the first to help.”

There are also Internet reports claiming that co-offensive line coach Todd Spencer was a candidate for the recently opened Army head-coaching job.

“My name is being circulated around on all these message boards and everything, but I have had no contact with Army regarding a football job,” Spencer said. “My whole focus right now is on this great recruiting class we have, getting our team ready to play the defending national champions, and getting our offensive line in position to play better.”

Speaking to reporters in a ballroom at Atlanta’s Marriott Marquis after participating in the news conference with LSU head coach Les Miles, Johnson said he didn’t think there was any merit to the reports about his staff.

“You know, the only thing I can tell you is that I don’t believe everything I’ve heard through the media, you guys ought to know that,” Johnson said with a laugh. “I don’t think there’s a whole lot to any of that.”

Johnson realizes that if Monken, Spencer or any of his assistants were offered jobs between now and the Dec. 31 bowl game, they may not be on board for the contest.

Hired from Navy by Georgia Tech last December, Johnson joined his new team as the Yellow Jackets and his former Midshipmen prepared for respective bowl games. The head coach understands what types of pressures a postseason transition can bring a new head coach.

For recruiting and organizational purposes, he knows that if his assistants leave, they could take off right away to tend to the immediate needs of their new program. There is also the chance the assistant might also stay on and coach his final game.

“You’d have to look and see where the job was and what the situation was,” Johnson said. “I think we’re such that we could probably do it either way and without causing a lot of disruption. So we cross that bridge when we get to it. I don’t know that it’s going to happen before the bowl game, and if it does, we’ll deal with it. I don’t know that it’s going to happen at all.”

Last season when Johnson was hired by Georgia Tech, he left Navy three weeks before its Poinsettia Bowl appearance. The Midshipmen lost 35-32 to Utah.

Monken is in his first season at Georgia Tech, having followed Johnson from Navy and Georgia Southern. A Joliet, Ill. native, Monken was a receiver at Millikin (Ill.), where he graduated in 1989.

The Illinois State opening came available after head coach Denver Johnson resigned Nov. 22 following a 17-10 loss to in-state rival Southern Illinois. The Northwestern State position fielded more than 40 applicants, athletics director Greg Burke told the Alexandria Town Talk. Along with Monken, several other FBS-level assistants have applied for the position, the paper said.

Spencer is also in his first season at Georgia Tech, having joined Johnson from Navy. Army’s position became available Friday when the school fired head coach Stan Brock.