The Naval Academy didn’t wait long to fire its head football coach after losing 20-17 in double overtime against its rivals from West Point.
Ken Niumatalolo, who helmed the Midshipmen for 15 seasons and became the winningest coach in Navy’s program history, was reportedly sitting alone in the locker room after the game on Saturday when the school’s athletic director Chet Gladchuk walked in and told him he was fired.
“First of all, we just got kicked in the gut,” Niumatalolo told ESPN. “I was a little bit numb prior to him saying that, so most of it I couldn’t comprehend. I’m just like, ‘Chet, why don’t you take some time to relax.’ He said, ‘Well, it’s been building up.’”
The Naval Academy announced the decision in a statement on Sunday, naming defensive coordinator Brian Newberry as the interim head coach.
Niumatalolo was hired as the head coach of Navy’s football program before the 2008 season and earned a 109-83 overall record. During the start of his tenure at the service academy, Navy won eight consecutive times in its annual rivalry game against Army. Niumatalolo became the first coach in the school’s history to win four consecutive bowl games. He also took home six Commander-In-Chief’s Trophies, awarded to the winner of the series between the military academies, marking the most in the school’s history.
The Midshipmen, however, went 11-23 over their last three seasons and only had one winning season in their last five, the academy’s statement said. In total, Navy is a combined 4-10 against West Point and the Air Force Academy over the last seven years.
The string of recent losses, culminating in this year’s defeat at the Army-Navy game, was not up to the standard set by Gladchuck, who said in a press conference yesterday that his priorities are to win the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy and to earn bowl eligibility.
“That’s been the constant bar we strive for, is to achieve those two goals, which I believe are very realistic, very reasonable and have been consistent for 20 years and so therefore this does not come as any surprise,” Gladchuk said. “It’s just an expectation that unfortunately fell short.”
Gladchuk said during the press conference “without any question of a doubt” the expectations were communicated to Niumatalolo before the season. This decision, he said, was not one that came quickly, adding that variables like the pandemic were no longer an acceptable excuse.
“I spoke directly to [Niumatalolo’s] representatives, who asked me exactly that question,” Gladchuk said. “I conveyed it to him ... there’s no confusion with regard to what the expectations are. ... They’re expected.”
In a statement Monday, Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck thanked Niumatalolo “for his service at the Naval Academy.”
“We’re in the business of developing leaders here in Annapolis, and for 25 years, including 15 as head coach, Coach Ken has made a huge impact on his players and on our mission,” Buck said. “He has led our football team to many successful seasons, but more importantly, he has developed resilient leaders of character for our Navy and Marine Corps. I thank Coach Niumatalolo for everything he has done for the team, the brigade, and for our institution over the years, and wish him and his family all the best in the future.”
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media