Navy Coach has a Different Approach

A lot has been made about how Navy's first-year head football coach Ken Niumatalolo is similar to his predecessor, Paul Johnson. The offense will be pretty much the same…the defense will be the same…the practices will be the same…and on and on. However, one detail that won't be the same is the press conferences.

For example, at last year's spring media luncheon for beat reporters, practice may not have started at the Academy, but Johnson was already in mid-season form with his one-liners.


When asked about the importance of spring ball, Johnson sent a clear message to his team, saying:


"Coming out of morning workouts there are a couple of young guys that I was really counting on that I'm disappointed in.  I don't know if they can play for us.  I don't know if they are tough enough.  They give up awfully easy."


To say that Johnson felt comfortable dealing with the media is a pretty substantial understatement.  In his sixth year at the helm at Navy, he knew how to work the room and he never really held back with his comments.


Enter the Niumatalolo media era.


It's difficult to draw too many conclusions from what is in reality his first real press conference, but if yesterday was any indication, fans should expect a more conversational approach from Niumatalolo as he gets familiar with the crowd.

However, there were moments yesterday when one may have thought Johnson was back behind the microphone, albeit slight hints.


When asked about putting his mark on the program and what would change, the first-year coach let everyone know that a permanent fixture on the Navy practice field over the past six years would not be occupied by him.


"I'm not going to have a (golf) cart out there…that might be the only difference."


With the assistants pretty much running the practices, it was common-place to see Johnson chewing on some sunflower seeds while seated in a golf-cart.


There was also a question to Niumatalolo about whether or not players had come to him regarding position changes and how exactly those conversations were handled.


With little hesitation, Niumatalolo responded by saying, "Football is not a democracy."


He paused, and then continued in a very diplomatic manner, "I'll always listen to the young men to see what they have to say.  Everybody wants to get on the field."

There was another light moment when the head coach spoke about evaluating players and at what position they may be able to help the team.


"We've got a big board that we always look at…we've got a personnel board.  We spend a lot of time in that room just looking at nametags.  People walk in and wonder what the heck is wrong with these guys?"


If you take a few moments, and actually think about walking into such a room with a bunch of coaches staring at a board, it may actually be pretty funny.  So for those Navy fans hoping that press conference transcripts will continue to be must-read copy – for its comedic value, there is, well, hope.   


As for what Niumatalolo thought of Johnson's approach with the media, he remarked, "He always said what was on his mind."


And as for how he expects to deal with the press, the man who played for and coached with Johnson for 17 years said, "I'm just going to be honest.  I think I'll (tell the media) how it is."


Here are some other observations from the media luncheon:


One Person at a Time, Please


Niumatalolo said that his staff learned a lot, especially in the communications realm, during his coaching debut against Utah in the Poinsettia Bowl.


"The game happens so fast.  You can't give a guy ten suggestions in .5 seconds and try to get him to decipher all of that.  We're going to do some things differently from that standpoint.  There won't be too many people talking…from the headset standpoint…so (offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper) can think."


"(The bowl game) was great from my standpoint.  It kind of allowed us…I won't say a dry run because I'm still pissed that we actually lost."


Secret, Secret, I've Got a Secret


First, Army's head coach Stan Brock said a few weeks ago that he wanted to keep his new offense a secret for as long as possible.  Now, in a follow-up to that statement, Army has closed its spring practices to the media and fans alike.  In the past years, such a move would get little reaction out of Paul Johnson, who probably would have said that he had enough to worry about in Annapolis.  However, the new sheriff in town is very interested in what his chief rivals may be scheming before the fall.


"With Air Force and Army, I always keep up with what the off-season is like.  I always try to see what they are up to."   

As for Army's ability to keep their offensive scheme a secret, Niumatalolo, wasn't so sure that it will be possible.


"I don't know.  I'm anxious to see what they are going to do."


Navy fans will be happy to know that all of Navy's practices are still open to the public under the new head coach.


Can We Get Mids to Those Road Games in 2008?


Last summer, Navy fans were in an uproar over new rules by the incoming administration that significantly decreased the number of midshipmen who were allowed to travel to away games to support the team.  So what will happen this year?  Of course Coach Niumatalolo does not have the answer to that question, but now, as the head coach, he does have the topic on his radar.


"All those things come into play now.  My dealings with the Supe have been great.  I've seen their commitment.  It's been all positive."


Who Let the Dogs Out?


Having new coaches on the staff means new opportunities, according to Niumatalolo, for a lot of players, especially those in the offensive trenches.


"I told the offensive linemen…for some of the guys that have been in my doghouse for the last couple of years, this is a great opportunity for them.  They have different people looking at you."


Now Returning Punts, Your Back-up Quarterback…


I have my research staff checking into this, but I'm not sure a back-up quarterback has ever been asked to return punts for a Division I-A football team.  If senior Jarod Bryant does as well in that role as the coaching staff hopes, history could be made in Annapolis this August.  But isn't Niumatalolo concerned about having his number-two option quarterback out of harm's way just in case (knock on wood), number-one goes down?


"Those thoughts definitely went through our minds.  It's definitely a risk.  (But Bryant) is too good to sit on the bench.  We are taking a risk in putting him out there."


Don't forget…


The deadline to buy your tailgate tickets for the Spring Football Game on Friday, April 18 is Tuesday, April 1.  All proceeds from the event will benefit the Fallyn Zembiec Educational Fund.  For more information, click here. Top Stories