100 wins and more to come
Niumatalolo reaches the century mark with Mids
For Ken Niumatalolo, the heartfelt tributes from former players are what meant the most.
Niumatalolo reached a major career milestone Saturday night when Navy defeated Temple — 100 career wins — and he was inundated with text messages, emails and phone calls Saturday night into Sunday.
“It’s been a really cool weekend hearing from a ton of players,” Niumatalolo said Monday. “Hearing from guys from all over the world … it was pretty emotional. I enjoyed that more than anything. You can’t put a price on that bond we share.”
Kevin Slattery, director of creative design for Navy football, compiled a video of congratulatory messages from former Navy football standouts such as Miami Dolphins rookie running back Malcolm Perry and other current or former NFL players.
“We could not have a better leader for Navy football,” Joe Cardona, a 2015 Naval Academy graduate and starting long snapper for the New England Patriots, said in the montage.
“I always remember you said every week it’s hard to win and you found a way to get it done 100 times,” said record-setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who played for the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks.
“I want to thank you personally for all your dedication and hard work,” said Ricky Dobbs, starting quarterback for Navy teams that won 19 games in 2009 and 2010.
In the immediate aftermath of the milestone victory, Niumatalolo deflected credit to players, assistants and support staff.
“I’ve never played a down, so I haven’t done anything. It’s all the great players and coaches over the years,” he said. “Football is such a unique game. It takes so many people — so many players, so many staff members. I’m just very proud of our program and very grateful for all the people over the years.”
Niumatalolo has spent a total of 23 years at the Naval Academy, having initially been hired as an assistant by former coach Charlie Weatherbie in 1995. He returned in 2002 with the title of assistant head coach when Paul Johnson replaced Weatherbie.
Niumatalolo was promoted to head coach in 2008 when Johnson, his mentor, left Navy to become head coach at Georgia Tech. Since then, Niumatalolo has led Navy to 11 winning seasons capped by bowl berths and captured six Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy championships.
Achieving such a significant milestone is a by-product of longevity. Niumatalolo is one of only six active coaches to earn all 100 wins at the same school. Johnson, who recommended Niumatalolo for a graduate position at Hawaii and was responsible for bringing him to Navy, expressed pride in his protégé for reaching the century mark.
“That’s a tremendous accomplishment. For one, it means you’ve been able to stay someplace for a long time,” said Johnson, who retired with 189 career wins. “Kenny’s done a remarkable job at Navy. He certainly understands the academy and how it works. He’s kept that program moving forward and that’s impressive.”
During a virtual news conference Monday, Niumatalolo turned his cell phone camera toward an office shelf covered with oversized rings commemorating Navy’s six bowl game victories during his tenure. He called college football coaching “ruthless” and “unforgiving” — saying it will “chew you up and spit you out.”
Niumatalolo celebrated the career milestone for less than 24 hours before turning his attention to East Carolina, which Navy visits Saturday.
“If you sit back, put your feet up and look at your trophies or your bowl rings … that’s when you get into trouble. You have to keep pressing forward,” he said.
“It’s not time to sit back and reflect. I’m still coaching. Maybe when I’m back in Hawaii driving a bus, I can sit back and reflect,” Niumatalolo added. “In this profession, if you start reflecting on stuff, you’ll have a lot of time to reflect because you’ll get fired.”
Niumatalolo is never satisfied with Navy’s success and knows he must incorporate all the latest innovations and developments to keep the program on top. He’s constantly pushing Gladchuk to provide improvements, whether it means hiring a full-time nutritionist or renovating the weight room.
“I feel like I have a great relationship with Chet. I’m able to say anything to him and he does the same,” Niumatalolo said. “Chet has given me everything I needed. All the things I ask for cost money. Chet sometimes grits his teeth a bit, but eventually he gets its done. I’m very grateful for that unwavering support.”