Jeff Monken had just accepted the task of reviving Army's football program when his phone rang. It was a call from an old, close friend.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo was on the line.
"Of all the jobs, you have to get the Army job?" Niumatalolo asked Monken.
🎬 Thank you to everyone who came out to the Fan Fest to meet the 2018 @NavyFB team! #AnchorsAweigh⚓ #RaiseTheSail pic.twitter.com/8ff2ywXfY8— Navy Athletics (@NavyAthletics) August 4, 2018
Niumatalolo and Monken had coached together as Hawaii assistants in the early 1990s and Navy assistants from 2002-07, and remained close after their careers wandered in different directions.
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As they talked on the phone, both knew their relationship was destined to change. They were devoted friends who had become the fiercest of football rivals.
Come December, they would stand on opposite sides of one of the fiercest rivalries found in college sports, or any sport.
Monken, speaking from his West Point office, laughed.
"He's a remarkable football coach and a good friend," Monken said. "That was as difficult as anything about taking this job. Going into the rivalry, you know the relationship is going to change.
That's a wrap on Camp. #GoArmy pic.twitter.com/MPpGCmfkBc— Army WP Football (@ArmyWP_Football) August 18, 2018
"We used to talk a lot more. We talked about football things and family things. It's hard for us to do that now. We're knee-deep in the biggest rivalry in college football, and we're recruiting the same guys."
Niumatalolo is not surprised by Monken's success at Army. When Monken accepted the job, the Black Knights had lost 145 of 180 games and gone through five coaches since 2003. One of the proudest programs in college football history had fallen and could not get up.
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In the past two seasons, Monken has won 18 games and, most important, beaten Navy twice in a row.
"He's raised the bar at Army," Niumatalolo said. "He's done a really good job."
This article is written by David Ramsey from The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.