Navy's Niumatalolo Staying About Much More Than Wins and Losses

Navy's Niumatalolo Staying About Much More Than Wins and Losses

By Justin Mears

As the Navy fanbase spent the last week wondering whether or not they would lose head coach Ken Niumatalolo to BYU, it became clear that he means so much more than just X's, O's, W's, and L's.

Coach Niumatalolo has done wonders for the Navy Football program in his eight years at the helm, but I want to say up front that this article has nothing to do with stats (although a few get mentioned), wins, losses, or program records.  If you want a look at what Coach Niumatalolo means to the Navy football program in that respect, you will be disappointed.

This is about Coach Niumatalolo the man and leader.  While Coach Niumat staying will continue to mean great performance on the gridiron, his staying means so much more because of who he is and what he represents as the leader of Navy Football.

This was supposed to be a thank you letter.  Just like many, I was prepared to write a somber response to a great coach leaving for reasons that no one could fault him for.  Stating from the beginning that the interest in the BYU football head coaching position was all about his faith and the chance to coach his two sons leaves little to no room for judgment and criticism.

This is part of what makes Coach Niumat so great.  There is no hidden agenda with the man and there never has been.  Anyone who knows him can tell he wears his emotions on his sleeves and he is as honest and forthright as he can be with you at all times.

Coach Ken leads by example. He is as humble as they come.  If you have ever heard him speak, he deflects any and all attention and gratification right back on his players and coaches.  After winning the Admiral Larson Ethical Leadership Excellence Award this season, all I could get Coach Ken to speak about in an interview was the great man Admiral Larson was and the way in which Admiral Larson had influenced his life while serving as Superintendent.

This award, mind you, isn't just given to the best coach at Navy.  Coach Niumatalolo went up against faculty and staff, both military and civilian, from across the Yard, and was chosen as the best representative of Ethical Leadership among them all.

He never asks his players or coaches to do anything he would not do himself.  His attitude of selfless service permeates his program and can be seen, I believe, most clearly in his senior captains who represent the team as the leaders both on and off the field.

Anyone who has followed the Navy football program this season can see Coach Ken's influence on Bernie Sarra and Keenan Reynolds.  I challenge you to go back and look at any interview that either of these leaders participated in which they focused at all on their individual accomplishments.

Given everything Keenan Reynolds accomplished this year, it would be easy to find a moment somewhere, during Sportscenter segments, Sports Illustrated interviews, or Heisman conversations where Reynolds took the time to stake his claim as one of the greatest college football players in history.

With the records he has broken, would anyone really blame him?  Keenan Reynolds, like his coach, always found a way to deflect any mention of personal accomplishments and turn it back to his teammates and coaching staff for helping get him there.

If that's not the mark of a coach's influence on the overall attitude and culture of a college football program, I don't know what is.  After all, isn't that what we are looking for in our future leaders in the Navy and Marine Corps?  Aren't we looking for individuals who will take up the baton of selfless service to their country and lead by example, all while staying true to their values and beliefs no matter the circumstance or cost?

Coach Niumatalolo embodies everything we try and instill in the Midshipmen who are preparing themselves to become future officers in the Navy and Marine Corps upon graduation and commissioning.  If you still aren't convinced, just look at the seven attributes of a Naval Academy graduate, and how Coach Niumat plays a part in developing each one by the way he leads his program.


Selfless leaders who value diversity and create an ethical command climate through their example of personal integrity and moral courage.

Coach Niumatalolo, as already stated, lives his life with an attitude of selfless service, personal integrity, and moral courage.  I do not know Coach Niumatalolo that well, but he calls me by my first name and makes a point to say hey to me anytime he sees me at practice or around the Yard.

I have played pickup basketball with Coach Niumat on several occasions, and you would never guess that he was the head coach of a major Division 1 college football program.  He makes it a point to talk to everyone the same way, regardless of their position or influence on his own life.  He takes the time to get to know people and what is going on their lives.  The man is selfless.


Mentally resilient and physically fit officers who inspire their team to accomplish the most challenging missions and are prepared to lead in combat.

In an interview today on the Glenn Clark Radio show, Coach Niumatalolo made it a point to emphasize that life at the Naval Academy can be hard, but he wants it to be hard.  Coach Niumat said, "I hope it stays hard.  We need some tough dudes."  He went on to say that "I don't want to alleviate that for football."

For those who think that Navy Football is a waste of time and resources for the overall mission of the Naval Academy, I challenge you to go listen to that interview.  We are all lucky that there is a coach who it seems will remain in place now for years to come who "gets it."  He understands what the mission of the Naval Academy is, to develop Midshipmen into leaders of character who are prepared to lead sailors and Marines into harm's way, and he knows his role within that mission.


Technically and academically proficient professionals with a commitment to continual learning.

Just take a look at the way the "triple option" has evolved under Coach Niumatalolo and Coach Jasper and you will see how proficiency finds its way into everything the Navy Football team does.  This is a team that has been leading the nation in points per drive, touchdowns per drive, and fewest turnovers per drive.

They are the least penalized team in the country, have the second-best turnover margin in the country, and have the third-leading rushing attack in the country.  They rely on efficiency and proficiency to win and that is how they prepare.  Coach Niumat stresses the need to lead in all of these categories to overcome some of the obstacles that stand in their way in size and speed.


Critical thinkers and creative decision makers with a bias for action.

This may be one of the most underrated strengths of Coach Niumatalolo and his staff.  He does not just do things "the way they've always been done."  He believes in innovation and always looking for an edge and that can be seen in his decisions to limit spring practices, eliminate the spring game, cut back on in-season practices to increase recovery, nutrition, sleep, and the list goes on and on.  He is not afraid of challenging the status quo, and this is one of the best qualities he brings in leading Navy Football.


Effective communicators.

Being a good communicator is a necessary quality for any leader, and whether it is a product of the football program, the quality of the players and Midshipmen, or both, this is a team that is able to effectively communicate and articulate a vision and purpose that the whole team can buy-in to.  From day one this season, the motto of 1-0 (which Sarra and Reynolds came up with) was repeated over and over and over again.

The ability to effectively articulate this simple message day in and day out has led this team and program to new heights.  This is not only a team with leaders who can articulate a clear vision but a team with players who themselves are great communicators.  Once again, this could be a byproduct of the quality of players that come into the program, but regardless, they are getting the opportunity to hone their communication skills in a way that many Midshipmen simply don't get the opportunity to do.


Adaptable individuals who understand and appreciate global and cross-cultural dynamics.

Similar to his ability to be innovative, Coach Niumatalolo seeks to be adaptable.  In the same interview on the Glenn Clark Radio show, Coach Niumatalolo explained how previously the team would practice early in the morning on finals week, but the players' grades suffered and he decided to cut out bowl practices all together until exams were over.

You can look at the way interim Defensive Coordinator Dale Pehrson was able to step in after fall camp had already started for coach Buddy Green and lead one of the best Navy defensive teams in recent memory as another example of the culture of adaptability that Coach Niumatalolo has created.


Role models dedicated to the profession of arms, the traditions and values of the Naval Service and the constitutional foundation of the United States.

Once again, this is where Coach Niumat "gets it" more than most Service Academy coaches.  He leads by example, setting a standard of warrior professionalism that he expects his team to live up to at all times.  He knows the part he plays in the overall mission, and just like he said at AAC Media Days this year, "We will shake your hand and open doors for women, but do not be confused, we're coming to compete." He leads a team of future professional warriors who approach everyone with dignity and respect, but that should never be confused with any amount of weakness or lack of competitiveness.

We should all be thankful that Coach Niumatalolo has decided that leading the Navy Football program is the right choice for him and his family now and into the future.  While we should thank him for the success on the field, we should be most proud of the program and culture he is developing off the field.

Coach Niumatalolo knows what it means to coach Navy Football.  And thankfully, the end product, the future officers for the Navy and Marine Corps, will continue to reflect the values that Coach Ken lives by himself each and every day.

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