BY JEFF FALK
Some Photos Courtesy of LVC
They say the truest test of a man’s character is the things he does when no else is looking. I have been acquainted with Jim Monos for more than 20 years, and I have never not known him to be a man of character.
Never. Not once.
During interviews and post-game talks, Monos was always cordial, accommodating and helpful. He didn’t always like the questions he was asked, but he always tried to answer them honestly and to the best of his ability.
He never threw anyone under the bus. He always took responsibility for the team’s performance, even if it wasn’t his to take. He never gave up, and he was always looking for positives and ways to make the team better.
Not so coincidentally, one of the things Monos reveled in was expounding on the overall character of his teams. He always seemed to care more about his team’s handling of adversity than what the scoreboard said or one player’s individual performance.
“I approached it that way because you guys have a job to do,” said Monos. “You’re talking about our football program. That’s the least I can do. Sometimes it’s really tough, but it’s part of the job. You (reporters) want to be able to write and present it. You deserve to hear from me after the game.”
On November 17, Jim Monos retired as the head of the Lebanon Valley College football program, after 23 seasons. Although the impact of his loss will be felt throughout the entire Flying Dutchmen community, he is leaving the LVC football program in better shape than perhaps it’s ever been in.
Since then, Monos’ offensive coordinator Joe Buehler, a former head coach at Palmyra High School, has been named as his predecessor.
“I believe there are life lessons that are learned in our game,” said Monos, 65. “I don’t think players realize it at the time, but down the road they do. Things like taking responsibility and handling it in an efficient manner, and how they’re treated. They’re treated with respect, and they’re expected to return that respect. They remember practices. They remember good times, and they remember bad times, and how we handled them.
“Oh yeah, I care what people think of me,” continued Monos. “But it’s hard to ask me that (how he will be remembered). There have been a couple of threads where guys have said they were treated like men and that we did it the right way. It was important for me to hear that. It was confirmation that maybe we were on the right track. Players don’t care how much you know, until they know how much your care. It’s important to get to know them as young men.”
With a career record of 109-122-2, Monos is both Lebanon Valley College’s all-time winingest coach football coach and the program’s career leader in losses. Monos was the Flying Dutchmen’s head coach from 1986-1996 and then again from 2004 to this season, during which LVC went 5-5.
In between, Monos was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Division Two Bloomsburg University. He has been continually coaching football, in one form or another, for 44 straight years.
“Probably the last two or three years, I’ve thought about it, but I wasn’t ready,” said Monos. “This preseason I told my staff I was leaning that way. During preseason camp, I felt I was ready. There was a lot behind it. Yeah, it was a hard decision. I love the school. It has my heart, and always will. I will do everything and anything I can to promote that school. These young men have been great. I had the counsel of some good friends, and one said, ‘Don’t do it too long’. I still have my health, and my wife still has her health. But you never know. It was time.
“To be honest, I didn’t give it much thought at practices or games, until the end,” Monos continued. “That last game I walked out on to the field and it was like, ‘Really?. This is going to be my last home game?’ The last practice got me. After 44 years, I’m not sure what is going to happen. It’s going to be something, I just don’t know what. It was pretty emotional. When it came time to tell the team after the Albright game, I really struggled to get through that.”
From 2008 to 2013, Monos helped usher in the so-called ‘Golden Age of Lebanon Valley College Football’, a period in which the Flying Dutchmen compiled an overall mark of 43-21 and qualified for four postseason contests. But over the past two seasons, LVC went a combined 8-12.
Still, in each of those campaigns, Lebanon Valley established program records with participation rates over 100 student-athletes.
“I think that’s deceiving,” said Monos. “We were in the middle of the pack and made a run, and two years ago we won a championship. The last two years, if you look at our record, I think you’ll find seven or eight games that we lost by a touchdown or less. It’s a fine line. We have still maintained. Where we are is in the middle of the pack. We were competitive with some of the top teams, but didn’t beat them. Getting there is tough, but staying there is tougher. With the league we are in, there are schools that have different academic standards. Last year’s freshman class was one of the best we ever recruited, and if we can recruit another one of those, we can take the next step.
“The foundation is there,” added Monos. “We even look at this season, we could’ve had a few more wins, very easily. But we didn’t. We didn’t make plays late in games to win them. We have to take steps to build on that foundation. We’re a competitive program. When I say we’re in the middle of the pack, it’s the top of the middle. We’d like to be there all the time.”
A native of Shippensburg, Monos matriculated to Shippesnburg University and played football there, before later becoming the Red Raiders’ offensive coordinator.
“I want to win at everything. I still do,” said Monos. “To the point of being a coach or play golf or playing racquetball, I want to win. I love competing. I want to keep doing that. I’ve got to fill that void.
“Back then, I had a thought about everything,” Monos added. “I had answers for everything. I was very fortunate. I learned. I thought I did a better job the second go-around of leading a program. I always tried to stay up on things.”
The competitive side of it is just one of the things Monos will miss about coaching.
“Being around young people keeps you young,” said Monos. “You’ve got to maintain an energy level to match their’s. They want to play. They want to learn. They want to win. And I’m going to miss the camaraderie of the coaches, and being around those guys.
“The aspect I don’t think I will miss is within the recruiting process,” added Monos. “It’s a long process. I like the challenge, but it’s a lengthy process. Your days and nights are the dog days.”
When Monos looks back on his career, he does so with nothing but pride.
“I can tell you this, the response from friends, family and former players has been overwhelming and humbling, to say the least,” said Monos. “As a coach, that’s what’s sticking with me. I’m still trying to answer all the well wishes. For a coach, a lot of times it’s about the wins and losses. But for me, longevity took care of that. I understand I lost more games than we won. But it’s a fact, the last ten years have been the best we’ve ever had at LVC.”
Because of his class, humility and dignity, Monos will be a tough act for Buehler to follow. Over the years, Monos assembled a loyal and talented coaching staff.
“The school asked me for my recommendation and I felt strongly the next coach should come from within,” said Monos. “The process for Joe was pretty rigorous. I wanted a seamless transition. Joe asked me to stay on and help with recruiting, but I turned him down. Joe’s got a job to do. He doesn’t need me hanging around.
“As one good friend said to me, ‘How many coaches get to go out on their terms and get an opportunity to recommend who will replace them?’,” continued Monos. “I feel good about that. That tells me the school likes where the program is and they think Joe can take it to the next level.”
While conducting those post-game meetings with media types, Monos always had one eye – and just a little bit of his attention – drawn to grand children and younger family members frolicking on the same Arnold Field turf where battle had just been waged. Monos never cut interviews short because of his grand kids, and when one considered how the man handled himself, it was easy to understand why their patience was being tested.
Perhaps that became the most compelling reason for the family-oriented Monos to step aside. Those little balls-of-energy will never have to wait to meet with their grandfather again.
“Sometimes I sacrificed my immediate family for it,” said Monos. “There were times earlier in my career when I didn’t see my two boys from Sunday to Thursday. My wife did a great job of keeping things together. I’m fortunate to still have a relationship with both of them. The family thing is important to our players and our coaches. That comes first.”
What follows is part of a statement made by Monos to the Lebanon Valley College administration, announcing his retirement:
“I’d like to extend a special thank you to Director of Athletics Rick Beard, Greg Krikorian, President Lewis Evitts Thayne, and the Board of Trustees for making this employment the best experience of my life. I love this school, the student body, and the employees that I have come to know. Lebanon Valley embodies all of the principles that I believe in and it has been my privilege to have worked here for 23 years. Thank you for the opportunity to serve this school and the student-athletes that brought so much joy to my life.”