Navy coach Niumatalolo doing it the right way, on and off the field #StraightFromTheBush
The notion of addressing a ballroom full of Department of Education administrators and principals about leadership sometimes strikes Ken Niumatalolo as so ironic as to be amusing.
“I just remember this hot-headed, cocky junior varsity basketball player (at Radford High) who didn’t want to run the plays and just wanted to shoot the ball,” said the Naval Academy football coach, who will speak before the group Thursday at the Hawaii Convention Center. “I remember Coach (Levi) Chang taking me aside.”
What Niumatalolo learned about leadership that helped make him the academy’s winningest all-time football coach “doesn’t come from a book at all. It comes from right here (in Hawaii), where I grew up.”
“When you talk about a successful culture, I think of Coach Chang, Timmy’s father,” Niumatalolo said. “I think of coaches (John) Velasco and (Bobby) Stevens in football (at Radford), coach Pele Leiataua in Laie, a landscaper by day at the Polynesian Cultural Center, who ran all over town to get our uniforms … I think of (former Hawaii coach Bob) Wagner, all the coaches and teachers I’ve had and reflect on all the lessons — of love, toughness and discipline — they instilled.”
Every July of his soon-to-be 30 years in college coaching brings Niumatalolo, 53, and his wife, Barbara, back home “to be rejuvenated in spirit again,” he likes to say.
But along with recharging for the season that, this year, will open at Aloha Stadium for Navy with a Sept. 1 game against the University of Hawaii, there is a giving back that takes place, be it with high school coaches, such as the ones he will meet with Friday, businessmen or others.
“I really feel fortunate to have had the coaches and teachers I’ve had and am willing to share whatever I can. I know I wouldn’t be here where I am today without them,” said the former UH quarterback (1987-89) and assistant coach (1990-94).
Where he has been is atop several schools’ shopping lists in recent seasons. Arizona interviewed him in January. Last year it was Brigham Young, an institution of his LDS faith that made an all-out pitch. And there have been others, mindful of his 84-48 record and 10 bowls in parts of 11 seasons as head coach at Navy — and a lot more.
With Niumatalolo there has been consistency without drama. A principled, even-keeled manner throughout. “Somebody made a list of the winningest programs over the last five years and we were in the top 20,” Niumatalolo said. “But, among those 20 we were first in the Academic Progress Rate (a key NCAA metric). That meant a lot — it meant that we were doing it right, on and off the field.”
Still, there are days when he frankly admits the right Power Five conference job “could be enticing. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to to have all those kind of (advantages) and what you could do with them,” Niumatalolo said. “But I’m not going to chase a contract. It would have to be a very special place.”
It is why, when “recruits ask, ‘Coach, how long are you going to be here?’ that I tell them up front if there is an offer that I might be interested in that I owe it to my family to take a look. With that said, I love being at the academy, where I’m going on my 21st year. I love the school and I love the kids.
“I love what I’m doing. I love going to work each day because it doesn’t seem like work. I feel very fortunate.”