Ken Niumatalolo was in Provo yesterday to interview with various officials to potentially become the next head coach at BYU. There is a lot of buzz surrounding Niumatalolo’s possible hire. Some are very positive while others share a reservation due to the triple option offense he’s mastered and now employs at Navy. BYU fans should know that if Niumatalolo comes to BYU, there is no way he runs the triple option at BYU. Here is why.
Ken Niumatalolo is a very smart coach and does what it takes to win based upon circumstance and opportunity. He’s a rising star in coaching circles and in college football (I’ll talk more about this later in the article) due to his ability to win games with limitations. He runs the triple option offense, in which he learned from triple option mastermind Paul Johnson, who’s now at Georgia Tech. Johnson ran that specific scheme, and Niumatalolo continued it and even tweaked it for greater offensive potency, to fit the size and speed of the type of recruits Navy is able to recruit. Navy has to recruit kids that not only can play football but can also fit into fighter jets, so to think they can recruit 6-6, 310-pound players across the offensive line for a pro-style offense is simply unreasonable. It’s out of personnel and circumstance, rather than desire, that Niumatalolo runs the triple option offense at Navy with great success. However, don’t think that would carry over to BYU. BYU doesn’t have the personnel to run such an offense and is suited towards a passing game, which is something Niumatalolo is open to doing.
If there is one thing BYU fans should understand about Ken Niumatalolo that should help alleviate some fears concerning the type of offense Niumatalolo would run at BYU it is this. BYU fans can expect Niumatalolo to not rest upon the current expectations of BYU’s passing game. Much like he’s done at Navy under Paul Johnson, and wherever he’s coached, Niumatalolo will seek to surpass the current offensive standard, and at BYU that means throwing the football. At UNLV, Niumatalolo learned a pro-style offense under John Robinson. It’s hard to nail down what type of offense would be implemented at BYU by Niumatalolo. However, according to close family members of Niumatalolo, he desires to be a throw-first coach above everything else, and BYU fans should expect that to be the case at BYU simply because the personnel there fits the passing game.
With college coaching being such a cutthroat industry, there are coaches out there that want to be a part of Niumatalolo’s program, simply because he’s a rising star in the college football world. Coaches want longevity more than anything else, and Niumatalolo is rapidly establishing himself as a coach on the rise among the coaching circles. Here is a case in point. When Ali’i Niumatalolo went to Alabama’s summer camp, Coach Nick Saban recognized the name Niumatalolo on the back of his jersey. Nick Saban walked over and asked Ali’i Niumatalolo where his father Ken was. When Ali’i Niumatalolo told Saban his father was in the stands, Saban quickly called for Ken Niumatalolo to come down from the stands to the field. The reason? An excited Nick Saban wanted to meet him and have his picture taken with Ken Niumatalolo. Usually, it’s the other way around where others want to meet and shake hands with Saban. Saban wanted to meet Niumatalolo and have his picture taken with him. That right there is a classic example of influence and respect. Ken Niumatalolo would instantly bring that type of stardom and credibility to BYU from among the fraternity of college coaches. Like I said, he’s a rising star.
When it comes to football, Niumatalolo is a go-getter. He’s not just going to uphold the current status quo. That’s not what he did when he became the head coach at Navy after Paul Johnson left. Rather he upped the program’s performance. If Niumatalolo comes to BYU he’s not going to maintain the Bronco Mendenhall status quo, but rather he’s going to try and out-do what Mendenhall did just like he did with every previous position at every college program he’s been a part of. Sure, there are specific aspects of BYU that he’ll keep in line similar to what Mendenhall out of necessity to the university. In order to accomplish a next level achievement, Niumatalolo is going to have to grab every top player that can qualify for BYU that he can. One reason why Niumatalolo is widely popular among the coach’s circles is because he’s able to recruit and win at Navy when he’s not supposed to be able to do so. Navy is currently ranked 21st in the nation, and was ranked as high as 15th at one time, with a much shallower recruiting pool and a lesser known football brand than BYU. In Hawaii, Niumatalolo is well known all over the island as a fantastic recruiter. Because of his rise as the first Polynesian head coach, who is from Hawaii, Niumatalolo is heralded as a local Hawaii hero by all. Being LDS and having lived in Laie for some time, Niumatalolo has personal ties to the north shore community and is well-respected. He is widely considered one of the best recruiters in the state of Hawaii according to many locals in the north shore area. The Polynesian pipeline to BYU would continue to flow well and might even open a little more due to his overall influence.
For those who know Ken Niumatalolo, understand that he’s not economically driven. There have been propositions by SEC colleges for his services where a more lucrative contract would have been made, but Niumatalolo felt he was needed at Navy more. Many feel that there is no way he would leave Navy due to the pension that he’s up for in a few years, but for him it’s never been about the money. If it was he would be coaching in the SEC by now so it’s not a deal breaker. What would be a deal breaker by those closest to him would be whether or not he receives spiritual confirmation from above that BYU is the place where he would be. If that confirmation is a resounding yes, then he’ll forego any economic benefit and follow the direction of the spirit. It’s not about pension or what he could earn by staying at one place. For Niumatalolo it’s about a mission and purpose. It’s about him being obedient to his Heavenly Father and that he wants to serve a mission. If BYU is the next calling to fulfill that mission, Niumatalolo will heed that call according to close family members of his.
The great thing about a possible Ken Niumatalolo head coach proposition is he won’t be one who needs to grow into the role. He won’t need to learn how to establish a program while on the job, or learn how to present himself as a head coach to the media. He’s a very humble, extremely personal man who wears his religion on his sleeve. Unlike in the past, Niumatalolo wouldn’t be polarizing with the fan base due to his infectious personality. If a comparison is to be made, Niumatalolo is more like Lavell Edwards figure than any other head coach who’s wore the title at BYU.
Being the head coach at BYU football means not only being the face of the football program of the LDS flagship university. It also means that a BYU head coach is also the face of the LDS church in many ways. The religious reputation of Ken Niumatalolo is widely known already. He was one of the stars of the hit movie, “Meet the Mormons.” He established himself through reputation and character, which is why he was approached to be a part of the movie, as one who is principle and spiritually based. Niumatalolo even relies upon the spirit for game time preparation and searches for promptings from the spirit during game time management situations. To his family who know him well, they know when he’s seeking inspiration while standing on the sidelines as opposed to when he’s not. He’ll seek guidance during games to help with calls and game management to help lead his team towards success.
A story that confirms this occurred during a Navy vs. Maryland game at Maryland to open a college football season, which was televised on ESPN. Coach Niumatalolo had relied upon the personal guidance throughout the game, but felt the continuous bad calls made by the referee crew was taking the game away from them. During halftime, Niumatalolo ran over and got in the face of the referee shouting, “How are you going to let these guys down who protect your freedom?” because the calls from the referee crew were so bad. He shouted, “How are you going to let them down this way?” The confrontation made EPSN’s Top 10 on Sportscenter. Following that outburst, Niumatalolo personally feels he lost that game simply because he lost the spirit when he became angry at halftime. Niumatalolo’s game time preparation isn’t just had out on the practice field, or in the coach’s office, or in the film room. It’s also done in the temple to know what he needs to do to be successful. The reason is he believes that if he’s so in tuned with the spirit he’ll know what calls to make. Simply put, Ken Niumatalolo felt he lost that game against Maryland because he lost the inspiration he so heavily leans upon to guide him to win each and every game. These are but a few of some of the many examples as to why Ken Niumatalolo could easily be head coach and the next face of BYU football.