At the helm (hopefully I’m doing our Navy folks justice with the use of this term) of every great team is a great coach. At service academies, coaches are responsible for bringing out the very best in their athletes to be able to compete against teams who often have far more time to dedicate to their sport than cadets and midshipmen. To lead their teams to not only compete, but have great success in the NCAA is an impressive feat, so below are our nominees for coach of the year.
Kim Gidley, Air Force Women’s Tennis
When she took over the Air Force team over 20 years ago, Coach Gidley was told, “I had a coach say if they had to play us, they’d quit their job because we were that bad.” In 2019, she coached her team to an impressive ranking of 68 out of the 314 Division I tennis teams in the country. The team finished up with a best ever 22-3 record and were regular season co-champions of the Mountain West Conference.
Coaching women’s college tennis is especially difficult because the recruiting pool shrinks significantly because of citizenship requirements for Air Force Academy cadets. High level D-1 teams tend to bring in a lot of international talent that Air Force is simply unable to recruit from. For example, New Mexico, the team which ended the Falcons season, boasts 5 international players on their 8 player roster.
Kim Gidley has done a remarkable job across the board this season. She was named the Mountain West coach of the year, and with her top players returning next season, there’s no doubt that there is much more to come.
Jeff Monken, Army Football
Jeff Monken is unequivocally one of the hottest coaches in college football at the moment. His philosophy is simple. Play the hard-nosed brand of Army football while eliminating mistakes and turnovers, and call plays based on the statistical odds.
Army converted a staggering 86% of their fourth down attempts, 31 of 36 times and ranked first in the country, beating second ranked Oregon State by 17%. They were perfect on extra point kicks, making 57 of 57. They were number two in the country as a team for rushing yards behind Georgia Tech. Impressively, Monken led his team to a number 19 AP ranking at the end of the season and they ran up the score on Houston in the Armed Force Bowl, defeating the Cougars 70-14, leading to the firing of Major Applewhite.
In a way, there is no secret to Monken’s success, but such success is, at the same time, supremely difficult to achieve. He’s definitively proven that sticking your plan and trusting the process flat out works. In 2018, he was named the George Munger Collegiate Coach of the year, the Vince Lombardi College Football Coach of the Year, and he won the Touchdown Club of Columbus’s President’s Award.
Prior to Jeff Monken’s arrival, the Black Knights went 3-9 in 2013 and they have been on a steady incline to their 11-2 record in 2018. They’ve held on to the Commander in Chief’s trophy for the past two seasons and there really seems to be no end in sight for the coach’s success.
Cindy Timchal, Navy Women’s Lacrosse
Coach Timchal finished up her twelfth season as the head coach of Navy’s women’s lacrosse team with a 16-5 record, with four wins coming against ranked opponents. She led her team to a 16 spot ranking in the Inside Lacrosse poll with one of the toughest schedules in the sport. This season, she reached her 525th career win, and she is the first Division I head coach to do so.
Recruiting is another aspect of Timchal’s coaching that has been highly impressive. She was able to bring in Kelly Larkin and Marie Valenti, both of whom set school records at Navy.
If this award were to span an entire career coaching at service academies, there would be none more fitting for the title than Cindy Timchal. 2019 was by no means her most successful season, but even in what could be considered ‘a down year’ by comparison to the six Patriot League championships and 2017 Final Four run in the NCAA Tournament in the past, Cindy Timchal has absolutely earned the honor of one of the best coaches in 2019.
Paco Labrador, Navy Volleyball
In his first year of coaching, Paco Labrador coached the Mids to a 23-9 record with wins over Air Force and a win and a loss against Army. It will be interesting to see his vision and strategy take shape over the next few years and the Navy volleyball program is in great hands.
Chad Bagley, Army Men’s Golf
Chad Bagley coached the Army Men’s Golf team to a tie for second place in the Patriot League tournament this season where five of his players earned all-conference honors. Coach Bagley has only been the head coach for Army since 2017, but he was on the staff at various times throughout his career as an Army officer.
Launi Meili, Air Force Rifle
As the Air Force head coach since 2007, Launi Meili is no stranger to the highest levels of collegiate rifle competition. She has coached 33 cadets to All-American honors and her team has competed in seven NCAA championships. In 2019, the Falcons won the air rifle national title and placed third overall in the country, just behind TCU and West Virginia. A case could certainly be made for her coaching to be this season’s finest as she is the only coach on the list to win a national title.
It’s remarkable to see the service academies competing at such a high level across so many sports. The winner of coach of the year is a tough decision, which is a great problem to have. These men and women are expected to bring the same success that their civilian counterparts achieve, but they have the added difficulty of limited recruiting and competing for their athletes’ time with not only academics, but also military training. To earn national rankings, conference titles, and countless awards is no small feat, and this is an abbreviated list if we consider the accolades of so many more coaches at our service academies.