Ken Niumatalolo deserved better for all he did for Navy. He certainly deserved a better way of being told he was fired.
Either way, his dismissal from Navy shows that no matter what level a football team competes, whether it is Power Five, Group of Five, or FCS, the pressure to win in college football is immense.
Niumatalolo says he was fired literally after Navy’s 20-17 double overtime loss to Army in its season finale. (The school announced the move the next day).
In an ESPN story, Niumatalolo says Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk told him of his dismissal in the locker room in Philadelphia, shortly after the gut-wrenching loss to Army.
There is no good way to fire somebody, but there are plenty of bad ones, and that qualifies as one.
In looking back, Navy had slumped over the last three years, going 11-23, including 4-8 this season, but Niumatalolo was still the school’s all-time winningest coach with a 109-83 record.
He took the Midshipmen to nine bowl games, and most impressive is what he accomplished in the American Athletic Conference. Navy joined the American for football only in 2015 and immediately went 11-2. To show how fast things can fall apart, Navy (9-5) earned a berth in the AAC championship game in 2015, losing 34-10 to Temple in the title game.
This season Navy and Temple combined to go 7-17.
After that 2016 season, Navy had its ups and downs the next two years but in 2019 went 11-2.
Think about that, one championship appearance and other double-figure win totals while competing in what has been hands-down the top G5 conference around.
There were a lot of reasons why Navy slid over the last three years, but the lack of consistent play at quarterback was a major reason.
Navy, along with fellow service academies Army and Air Force, run the triple-option. The three schools aren’t able to recruit the blue-chip players that their opponents can for the most part, but the triple-option, when run correctly, helps level the playing field to an extent.
It’s an offense predicated on running the ball, and an adept quarterback makes all the difference in the world.
In 2016 when Navy played in the AAC championship game, the quarterback was senior Will Worth, who rushed for 1,198 yards (4.8 avg.) and 25 touchdowns. He also completed 72 of 117 passes for 1,397 yards and eight touchdowns.
During the 2019 season, the quarterback was Malcolm Perry, who was good enough to get drafted in the seventh round by the Miami Dolphins.
In that 2019 season, Perry rushed for 2,017 yards (6.8 avg.) and 21 touchdowns. He also kept defenses semi-honest by completing 48 of 86 passes for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns.
Navy hasn’t enjoyed this type of production at quarterback in the last three years.
If looking at things honestly this season, Navy may have overachieved in winning four games. And the record was deceiving. The best win of the season was a 17-14 victory at UCF on Nov. 19. That is a UCF team that would have earned a berth in the AAC championship had it not lost to Navy and is headed to the Big 12 next season.
Navy started the season with a 14-7 loss to FCS Delaware. Even though Delaware was an FCS playoff team, that’s one that Niumatalolo would clearly want back.
Navy lost three other games by a touchdown or less, including a 35-32 home defeat against Notre Dame.
In what universe should Navy be coming within three points of a Notre Dame team that blasted the ACC’s two championship participants — Clemson and North Carolina?
In addition, as somebody who covered Niumatalolo’s Navy teams several times, he always acted in a classy manner in victory or defeat. That matters a lot, especially at a place like the Naval Academy.
It wasn’t that many years ago that there was speculation as to whether Navy would be able to keep Niumatalolo due to all the success he was having.
He had a year to go on his contract and for all he did for the school, which also included two different stints as an assistant coach, allowing him to finish his deal would have been the right thing to do.