Navy reaches new heights

Coach has brought team to the fore­front of ser­vice acad­e­mies

Albuquerque Journal - - SPORTS - BY DAVID GINS­BURG

AN­NAPO­LIS, Md. — Ken Ni­u­mat­alolo has made Navy the foot­ball king of ser­vice acad­e­mies.

Ni­u­mat­alolo is the first coach in the his­tory of the Army-Navy ri­valry to win his first eight games. He has grounded Air Force in four of the last six years and is 14-5 life­time against his two big­gest ri­vals.

If those were his only ac­com­plish­ments, it would be quite enough. Now in his 10th sea­son at Navy, Ni­u­mat­alolo has beaten Notre Dame three times, guided Navy into the Top 25 in each of the last three sea­sons and walked the side­line in nine bowl games (win­ning four).

“His suc­cess speaks for it­self,” se­nior co-cap­tain Dar­ryl Bon­ner said. “He tells us he knows how to win, and he’s proven it. We just fol­low his lead.”

Ni­u­mat­alolo didn’t in­vent the triple op­tion. He merely per­fected it. The unique of­fen­sive weapon, along with his hands-on lead­er­ship, make Ni­u­mat­alolo at­trac­tive to schools with much more money and bet­ter fa­cil­i­ties than Navy. He re­ceives around $2 mil­lion an­nu­ally, far more than Jeff Monken at Army and Air Force’s Troy Cal­houn.

“I’ve al­ways told this to peo­ple: If there’s an of­fer, I’ll lis­ten,” Ni­u­mat­alolo said. “This is Amer­ica. You lis­ten for op­por­tu­ni­ties. If there’s an of­fer that’s bet­ter for me and my fam­ily, well, my fam­ily comes first. I’ve lis­tened to these of­fers, but I have a great job. You look at these other places, and you re­al­ize that coach­ing at the United States Naval Academy is a great bless­ing. I coach great kids. I love liv­ing in An­napo­lis. The grass isn’t al­ways greener.”

His pre­de­ces­sor, Paul John­son, left for Ge­or­gia Tech. Ni­u­mat­alolo had an in­ter­view with Brigham Young in 2015, but ul­ti­mately de­cided to stay put.

“I told him that I didn’t think BYU was a bet­ter job than Navy,” ath­letic direc­tor Chet Glad­chuk said. “The United States Naval Academy is one of the most pres­ti­gious in­sti­tu­tions in the coun­try. We have un­par­al­leled sup­port in the area in which we ex­ist. And you’re deal­ing with the high­est qual­ity of hu­man be­ings on the planet Earth.”

At a school de­signed to breed lead­ers, Ni­u­mat­alolo is right up there with the best of them.

“The most im­por­tant thing coach Ni­u­mat­alolo has done is teach us to be bet­ter men,” line­backer and co­cap­tain D.J. Pal­more said. “He al­ways em­pha­sizes our life out­side of foot­ball and af­ter foot­ball. He makes sure we do the right thing, and he’s al­ways got our back. I ap­pre­ci­ate that, be­cause I don’t think I would have got­ten that at another school.”

Bon­ner was re­cruited by North Carolina State, but chose Navy. Af­ter play­ing un­der Ni­u­mat­alolo for four years, the slot back knows he made the right de­ci­sion.

“Foot­ball is a rough sport. You’re hit­ting all the time,” Bon­ner said. “But what is re­ally deep-rooted in this team, the foun­da­tion, is love. Just be­ing out there with your broth­ers. You don’t get that at other schools.”

It’s tough to re­cruit at Navy, mainly be­cause life af­ter foot­ball means ful­fill­ing a mil­i­tary com­mit­ment. Ni­u­mat­alolo un­der­stands this , and uses it in his pitch to prospec­tive ath­letes.

“Our big­gest sell­ing point is not about the next four years, but the next 40 years,” he said. “It’s about ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties. It’s about get­ting one of the best ed­u­ca­tions in the world at the premier lead­er­ship in­sti­tu­tion in the world, and also play­ing big-time foot­ball. That’s our sell: Pre­pare your­self for the fu­ture.”

Ni­u­mat­alolo, 52, is 83-47 at Navy. With another vic­tory over Army on Satur­day, he would earn his sixth Com­man­der-In-Chief’s Tro­phy, pre­sented an­nu­ally to the win­ner of the foot­ball com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the coun­try’s three ma­jor ser­vice acad­e­mies. No one has ever won more games with the Mid­ship­men, and it’s safe to say Ni­u­mat­alolo will have the op­por­tu­nity to add to that to­tal as long as he cares to stick around.

Ni­u­mat­alolo’s as­sis­tants, many of whom have been with him since he took over, are paid hand­somely as well.

“One of the things that we’ve been able to do to re­tain him is be com­pet­i­tive, and pro­vide him with re­sources that go be­yond the other two acad­e­mies,” Glad­chuk said. “Part of that is main­tain­ing and sus­tain­ing the qual­ity and con­ti­nu­ity of the coach­ing staff all these years.”

If Glad­chuk has his way, Ni­u­mat­alolo and Navy will re­main the class of the ser­vice acad­e­mies for years to come.

“I told Kenny that if he fin­ishes his ca­reer at the United States Naval Academy, he will be a Hall of Fame coach,” Glad­chuk said. “If he were to sub­ject him­self to what I call the meat grinder, he would just be another coach in the mix. He re­ally stands out here. It’s a per­fect sit­u­a­tion for him. And it’s mu­tual, be­cause the in­sti­tu­tion could not ap­pre­ci­ate him more.”


Navy head coach Ken Ni­u­mat­alolo, cen­ter, cel­e­brates dur­ing the Mid­ship­men’s win over Army in 2012. Ni­u­mat­alolo is the first coach in the Army-Navy ri­valry to win his first eight games.

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