For the past few years, Navy football has been adrift.
Since finishing an 11-2 campaign in 2015 that included a blowout Military Bowl victory against the University of Pittsburgh and a Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy after a win against rival Army, the Midshipmen watched their win total plummet during each of the past three seasons.
Last year marked a new low as the Mids finished 3-10, a dive into mediocrity that included a third straight loss to Jeff Monken’s Army Black Knights.
Army finished the 2018-19 season with 11 wins and ranked 19th in the Associated Press poll, its best campaign since finishing third in the country in 1958.
The winningest coach in Navy football history agreed that he did a horrible job last year building team chemistry and a culture of excellence but he vowed to fix that.
“If a guy feels like he’s not all in, I’m going to call him in early," said Niumatalolo, who has led Navy to five bowl wins.
"'Hey, are you all in or are you not? Are you OK being in this position? Because this is the position you’ve got to play for us to win. Because if you’re not, I’m cool with it. You can go play rugby. You can go play badminton or do something else. But if you’re going to be on our team, you’ve got to do your job and you’ve got to do it the best you can for us to be successful.'”
One of Niumatalolo’s key reforms won’t take place on the field but rather online.
“I have to learn the social media part," he said. “Because if you have guys on your team that are pretty strong on the social media part, it can drive a wedge in your team. ... You always have disgruntled guys on the team, and when you lose, it kind of accentuates [that], and I found last year with social media that can spread like wildfire.”
Niumatalolo said the team is coming together off the field, doing activities that build team chemistry and bonding — critical components for sustaining winning programs that can’t always compete for the nation’s top high school talent.
“With that kind of situation when we’re always undermanned, you’ve got to be a team-first team," he said.
"It can’t be about you. You can’t be selfish.”
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.