For a man whose career was built on the back of options, Ken Niumatalolo is a bit of a stickler when it comes to control. In fact, Navy’s eighth-year head coach can’t bring himself to watch his favorite teams play close games on TV because there’s nothing he can do to change the outcome.
“My family hates to watch sports with me because I can’t watch the end,” Niumatalolo said. “I get too nervous. If I watch a game with a team that I like I either have to go downstairs or go somewhere else because I get too nervous, or I’ll turn the channel and my family will go, ‘Wait! What are you doing? Don’t change that!’
“They’ll ask me, ‘How can you be in coaching if you get this way?’ But I feel like I have more control. When I’m not in control I get nervous.”
At the end of the 2015 season it was the Navy fans that got a little nervous. After Niumatalolo’s triple-option offense helped power the Midshipmen to a school-record 11 wins and a No. 18 ranking in the final AP Poll, Niumatalolo was courted by BYU to replace longtime Cougars’ head coach Bronco Mendenhall after he departed for Virginia.
It was an offer that Niumatalolo, a devout Mormon whose son, Va’a, plays linebacker for BYU, had to seriously consider. However, after meeting with Brigham Young officials and talking it over with is family, the winningest coach in Midshipmen history decided the best option was to stay put in Annapolis.
“Last year there were (more schools) than BYU that contacted my agent, but BYU is a school that — because of my faith, being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, plus my son is on the team — those were two very intriguing factors and I felt like I needed to take a look at that school,” Niumatalolo said. “Ultimately, it worked out and I’m fortunate I’m still here (at Navy) because this is the right place for me.”
Niumatalolo said there was never a defining moment when he knew staying at Navy was the right choice, but after taking stock of the situation the AAC Co-Coach of Year found he was happy staying put.
“I decided that I have a great job and this is a great place to be. It just worked out,” Niumatalolo said. “Things just weren’t meant to be (at BYU). There wasn’t one specific thing. I think it was a culmination of a lot of things leading up to it. I have a good job here. Why leave? We have a good deal going.”
That they do. Under Niumatalolo’s guidance Navy has gone 68-37 overall, 8-0 versus archrival Army and has been to the postseason seven out of eight seasons.
Playing in a conference for the first time in the program’s 134-year history, Navy made a splash going 7-1 in AAC play and falling one game short of the conference title game.
The key for the Mids is that Niumatalolo takes a very modern approach when it comes to running a triple-option offense that is often viewed as ancient in this era of pass-happy football.
“I think in this profession you need to be thinking, ‘How can I get better?’ If you’re doing the same thing you’ll get passed,” Niumatalolo said. “I always look at companies like Apple, they’re just always getting better. You go from the iPod to the iPhone to the iPad to the watch and all the different variations. I think as a staff we need to be like them: constantly trying to get better.”
With that in mind, Niumatalolo, a finalist for the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year award in 2015, is constantly making sure his Navy team is going full speed ahead so that they don’t sink.
“The best in our profession at that is (Alabama coach) Nick Saban. He just constantly moves on. He just won the championship and when you see him being interviewed he’s already talking about next season and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Niumatalolo said. “Maybe when I’m retired one day in Hawaii I’ll reflect (on accomplishments), but if you start reflecting in this profession you’ll get fired.”