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Illini focus turns to Kevin Sumlin amid denials by Todd Monken

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Updated: December 6, 2011 2:54PM



Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken looks like he’d be a very good fit at Illinois. But Monken, a Wheaton native who recruits well in Illinois and is in charge of the nation’s second-highest scoring offense, said Tuesday that he has not talked with Illinois officials.

And there are indications that Houston coach Kevin Sumlin is the apple of Illinois’ eye. Sumlin, who has assembled an impressive offense at Houston, has head-coaching experience, which athletic director Mike Thomas favors.

Beyond being an exciting hire from a football standpoint, he would be the first African-American head coach of a major sport (football/men’s basketball) at Illinois, one of only two Big Ten schools (along with Purdue) that have not had a high-profile minority head coach.

With Texas A&M, North Carolina and other schools trying to hire coaches, it appears that there was a lot negotiating going on, which made it difficult to see where Illinois was headed.

Monken, who’d probably jump for a chance to coach at Illinois, acknowledged that his agent has communicated with Illinois officials, but said he has not spoken with anyone from the Illinois athletic department.

``I have not been interviewed by Illinois and I have no interview set,’’ Monken told the Tulsa World.

Cowboys coach Mike Gundy has not been asked by Illinois officials for permission to talk with Monken, an Oklahoma State spokesman said.

``I’m in Houston recruiting for Oklahoma State University and I have not heard from anyone about that job,’’ Monken told the Daily Oklahoman.

It’s not clear if this means Monken is not a candidate--or if he and Illinois officials are trying to keep a lid on things while negotiations go on behind the scenes.

Athletic director Mike Thomas could unveil Illinois’ new football coach as early as today, and signs point toward Monken.

Signs also point away from Monken. If he’s not Thomas’ choice, Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, Houston coach Kevin Sumlin or a surprise candidate can’t be ruled out.

Chryst doesn’t have the flair for recruiting that Illinois needs, a source said. And Sumlin, who has far more options than Monken, would command a higher salary and might not want to come to Illinois, which has proven to be a difficult place to be successful. Monken currently earns $400,000 at Oklahoma State; Sumlin is in position to command at least $2 million, whether he remains at Houston or leaves.

On the other hand, Illini fans were trumpeting a Tweet from a Florida Panhandle radio station saying, ``Houston’s Kevin Sumlin looks to be in as head coach at Illinois.’’

Details, let alone confirmation facts, were conspicuously absent.

Whether Monken, who has turned down interest from Tulane and Memphis, is hired at Illinos or elsewhere, he would be the fifth in the last six Oklahoma State offensive coordinators to become a head coach, following Les Miles (LSU), Gundy , Larry Fedora (Southern Miss) and Dana Holgorsen (West Virginia).

Sources familiar with the offense of Monken and Sumlin say Monken’s offensive upside compares very favorably with Sumlin’s.

``Monken uses a spread attack, with a commitment to the running game,’’ a source said. ``That’s why he and Dana will be good head coaches. They’re not gimmick guys. They have much more balance than most spread coaches.’’

Under the quickest scenario, Illinois could announce its new coach after the 5 p.m. window for applications closes later today, and introduce him at a press conference on Wednesday.

If Thomas hires an offense-oriented head coach, there’s a strong possibility defensive coordinator Vic Koenning would remain at Illinois. Koenning, who’s serving as interim coach for Illinois’ Kraft Bowl meeting with UCLA on Dec. 31, has expressed interest in remaining in Champaign, and has done an impressive job with the defense in his two years there.

Monken has received an oral commitment from Downstate quarterback Wes Lunt, who led Rochester, near Springfield, to the Class 4A title last month.

``He said he received no contact from Illinois,’’ Lunt, who was in Stillwater last weekend for the Cowboys’ 44-10 rout of Oklahoma, told the Springfield Journal-Register. ``I believed him when he said that. He’s been offered some jobs. He said Illinois would be an amazing gig for him, but he had no contact from them.’’

Under Monken, who’s in his first season as the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State is averaging 49.3 points a game, second in the nation, and finished third in the BCS standings behind LSU and Alabama. A 37-31 double-ovetime upset loss at Iowa State on Nov. 18 is the only defeat for the Cowboys (11-1).

Before returning to Stillwater, where he was passing game coordinator in 2002-04, Monken had spent two years at LSU’s passing game coordinator (2005-06) and four years as receivers coach for the NFL Jacksonvill Jaguars (2007-10).

Monken, a 1989 graduate of Knox College in Galesburg, where he was a quarterback, comes from a long line of Illinois high school coaches.

Twelve Monkens have gone into coaching. They include Monken’s father and four uncles, who all became high school head coaches, and seven sons of those five brothers. Monken’s cousin, Jeff Monken, is head coach at Georgia Southern.



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