Navy Coach Takes One for the Team

The game clock just winded down to four zeroes officially putting an end to a miserable game that 90 percent of America thought you were going to win. But you didn't and now as the head coach you have 15 minutes to explain how that happened. Of course that's pretty much impossible without dissecting the film, so you have to come up with something. Some coaches do the honorable thing and just lie.

Before I get to Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo's reaction after his Midshipmen's uninspiring defeat to Duke, let's take a look at how some other coaches have recently responded to losses.


Michigan State's Mike Dantonio after his Spartans lost to Iowa on Saturday – after trailing 37-0.

"Did we come unprepared? I don't think so," said Dantonio. "Did things snowball on us? I guess they did."

Washington's Steve Sarkisian chose these words after his Huskies laid an egg against Stanford this past weekend, losing 41-0.

"That's definitely the worst offensive performance I've ever been associated with," said Sarkisian.

Texas coach Mack Brown went a step further after his Longhorns lost to Baylor – on the heels of losing to Iowa State.

"We stood around and got beat," said Brown. "I don't think it's talent. I think it's attitude."

I realize that I am taking these quotes out of context, and I'm sure each of the above coaches took their share of the blame for their teams' respective losses, but usually the best coaches take a different approach – a more honorable approach. They just lie. Ok, lie is a strong word and I'll admit I'm not a big fan of calling anyone ‘a liar' without pretty hard evidence. So, let's just say, some coaches just take one for the team.

Take the following example after Navy lost to a 1-6 Duke team that they should have destroyed.

"Obviously I did a bad job of getting us ready to play," Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "That was a concern for us all week. I did a bad job...I coached a bad game."

No you didn't. How do I know this? Just look at the above statement and ask yourself what exactly was he concerned about all week? Heck, I'll just tell you. He was concerned about his team coming out flat against an underachieving Duke team after an impressive thrashing of Notre Dame the week before.


How many times do you think Niumatalolo made this point to his players in practice this week? I'm betting a thousand. How many times do you think he told his players to forget about Notre Dame because Duke could embarrass them on Saturday? I'm guessing, give or take, a thousand times. He couldn't have been more obvious about his fears before the game.


Does anyone really believe that after the Notre Dame win Niumatalolo invited his coaching staff over to watch the Hawaii Five-0 episodes he had saved up on his DVR instead of gathering to dissect Duke game film? Yeah, I'm sure that happened.


So how exactly could Niumatalolo have done a "bad job" of getting his team ready to play if he even admitted that he was "concerned" about a letdown? Make no mistake, Niumatalolo did his job in the week leading up to the game – he always does.


Furthermore, as for the actual game, I really don't think you will find anyone, even his sharpest critics on and elsewhere to agree that the third-year head coach had a bad effort. I thought he did a good job of managing the game, including when to use his timeouts, not making full-scale substitutions when the team was down big, etc... I also think Ivin Jasper mixed up his play calling throughout the game to try and find something that worked. One could definitely be critical about how Buddy Green's defense performed, but I don't necessarily blame Niumatalolo for that. I mean was he supposed to spend more time this week worried about a defense that had just shut down Notre Dame's potent offensive attack?


Sure, Niumatalolo talked a bit about missed assignments and the team being in "a daze" to start, but does anyone thing that just before taking the field their coach said, "Let's just spot them 24 points to make it interesting?"


I know you are all thinking, "What did you expect him to say?" Did you expect him to speak the truth and say that "this loss is on the players?" Of course not because after all it's not very politically correct for a coach to come out in public and blame his players for a loss – especially when they play for a service academy. And Niumatalolo is too much of a class act to even think about doing that…so instead he tells a little white lie, spins the truth…whatever you want to call it. (After further review, like I said, I'm more comfortable with just saying that he took one for the team.)


But regardless of Niumatalolo's choice of words, make no mistake: this loss is squarely on the Navy players and its senior captains. And Ricky Dobbs and Wyatt Middleton, pretty much said so after the game. As for what exactly led to the first-half collapse, we will never know, but if you are looking for specifics (with a dose of straight talk) in the post-game press conference you won't get it either. Former Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada went that route once, and, well, it didn't go over so well.


Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating a post-game press conference that includes players playing the old finger-pointing card, but it would be insightful to hear a bit of reality.


I mean could you imagine a lineman saying something like, "Well, to tell you the truth, I tried to push the nose tackle really hard in one direction, but he was just too strong and I couldn't. So he got to the quarterback before he could throw the ball."


Or perhaps a defensive back saying, "By the time I saw the ball being released, the receiver was too far away from me to prevent the first down. I just wasn't fast enough to react in time."


Every beat writer would be speechless if a player just admitted after the game that he "took the play off" that led to a touchdown because he was really tired. I guess in today's world, he could just say that he "pulled a Randy Moss on that one."


Instead Dobbs said that "Duke came hungry today." And Middleton added, "We have to come ready to play each week and clearly we did not today."


But what if Blue Devils' quarterback Sean Renfree was off target by a few inches on his second pass of the game, and instead of a 23-yard completion, it was returned for a Navy touchdown? If the Navy cornerback did nothing different and Renfree made a mistake, would that have meant that the Mids showed up more ready to play?


No, it would have meant that Renfree made a bad throw – something he decided not to do too much of on Saturday. And as a result, Navy's patented bend-but-don't-break defense got exposed. And on this Saturday, Navy's smaller, slower, and less strong players looked smaller, slower, and less strong.


I'm sorry but I am not buying the fact that the Blue Devils were any more prepared for the triple option than Notre Dame. I mean didn't the Irish say the same exact thing before they faced the Mids? Yes, they did.


For whatever reason, Duke was able to impose their will and win a ton of one-on-one match-ups a week after Navy managed to do the same thing to Notre Dame.


And for that reason, this loss is on the Navy players. Now, they need to either need to go get bigger, faster, and stronger in a hurry, or just decide to treat their future opponents all like Notre Dame.



 Top Stories