Army has its Col. Earl “Red” Blaik, but Navy might now have its modern times answer with Ken Niumatalolo.
Niumatalolo traveled to Brigham Young University on Monday to consider the school’s vacant head coach position, but he informed Navy officials on Wednesday that he’s remaining in Annapolis.
By staying, Niumatalolo can add to a legacy that needed more than eight years for posterity, even though he already is the academy’s career leader in wins with a record of 67-37. He is on his way to a place in the College Football Hall of Fame with that kind of record.
Blaik coached 18 years at West Point and was 121-32-10. No Navy coach has remained in Annapolis more than nine years. Paul Johnson, Niumatalolo’s former boss, left for bigger seas at Georgia Tech in 2008 after six years of Navy success.
Blaik’s time at Army competing for national titles is a bygone era the service academies can no longer hope to duplicate. Blaik won two national titles in 1944 and 1945 and was No. 2 in 1946. Army’s Doc Blanchard won the 1945 Heisman Trophy, teammate Glenn Davis the 1946 Heisman and Pete Dawkins was Army’s last Heisman winner in 1958.
There are multiple reasons the golden era came to an end, but a good dividing line was Navy’s 1963 team led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Roger Staubach, a future College Football Hall of Famer and Pro Football Hall of Famer. The Midshipmen finished No. 2 in the nation to Texas. Navy’s coach in those days was Wayne Hardin, who stayed only six years.
Shortly thereafter, the United States became embroiled in the Vietnam War. The nation protested the war as it dragged on and atrocities such as the My Lai massacre came to light. Academy recruiting suffered in more ways than athletics. In 1970, Navy was 1-9 and Army 1-8-1 when they met and Navy won 11-7. That followed Navy’s 1-9 season in 1969. In 1973, Army finished 0-10.
At the same time, professional sports salaries increased rapidly to six figures and beyond. When Staubach committed to Navy in 1961, there weren’t NFL millions to weigh against the prestige of an academy education and officer’s career. Pro athletes worked off-season jobs in those days to supplement their income. As the 1970s gave way to the 1980s, weight training also rapidly changed football; 300-pound players became common. It would be many years before the academies relaxed size restrictions to reduce the disparity with civilian Division I schools.
But the academies can compete for national rankings and Group of 5 conference titles with the right coach. Niumatalolo and Air Force coach Troy Calhoun have shown it can be done.
Army is hoping it has the right man in Jeff Monken after giving up on Rich Ellerson after four years. Navy played Houston for the AAC East Division title but lost. Air Force won the Mountain West Mountain Division title but lost to San Diego State for the conference crown.
The academies can also produce athletes that get on the Heisman radar. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds finished fifth in the 2015 voting. They can even beat Notre Dame, which Navy has done it three times since ending a 43-game losing streak in 2007. Niumatalolo was the offensive coordinator for Paul Johnson that season. Niumatalolo added two more wins over Notre Dame in 2009 and 2010 since he was promoted to replace Johnson.
Navy’s successful 2015 season isn’t finished. The Midshipmen are 10-2 and ranked No. 21 in the nation entering the Military Bowl Presented by Northrup Grumman against Pitt (8-4), that is conveniently played on the Navy campus at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Navy’s 2015 results already have booked a trip to the White House for Niumatalolo and his seniors for winning the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. Navy swept Air Force and Army for the fifth time in the last eight seasons under Niumatalolo.
Niumatalolo said he has ignored other schools that have contacted about an opening, but as a Mormon he felt an obligation to visit a school that was founded by his religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
That statement apparently means the former Hawaii quarterback and Honolulu Radford grad didn’t consider Hawaii’s vacancy created at mid-season and recently filled by Nevada offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich. It’s hard to imagine Niumatalolo, the NCAA’s first Samoan football head coach at the Division I level, couldn’t have had the Hawaii job if he wanted it.
Blaik once turned down the New York Giants in 1954.
He also had previously planned to resign following 1951 Honor Code violations involving players. But General Douglas MacArthur, a rabid West Point and college football fan for whom the National Football Foundation’s MacArthur Bowl Trophy is named, convinced him to stay.
Army and service academy football will likely never again enjoy the circumstances for a Red Blaik to dominate college football, but Navy has never had a coach of such lasting stature at all.
Navy, though, knows what is has in Commander Niumatalolo.