100 wins and more to come

Ni­u­mat­alolo reaches the cen­tury mark with Mids

Baltimore Sun - - FOOTBALL - By Bill Wag­ner

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.”

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