He has a name that is difficult enough to pronounce. Once you get beyond having to type his name into your computer though, it is pretty clear Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo is the right guy to lead the BYU football program into the 2020s.
You have to wonder based on this picture what Kenny–what his friends call him–and former Memphis head coach Justin Fuente were laughing about prior to their game, which Navy won, as a matter of fact. Perhaps they were cackling about BYU’s composure–or lack thereof–at last year’s Miami Beach Bowl, which Memphis won in overtime. A sucker punch to the head later, BYU was the laughingstock of college football.
After 11 years at the helm and a 99-42 record, Bronco Mendenhall saddled up Friday and will ride off into the sunset at the Las Vegas Bowl later this month, leaving a void of sorts. For starters, the only head coaching candidates must be active members of the LDS Church–which eliminates a good many prospects.
But, there is a second, even larger reason that the BYU head coaching job–other than money–is one that is not for many. You can’t coach on Sundays, either. All of which is fine with Kenny, a kid from the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii who is LDS yet didn’t play at BYU, nor coach there–even if he’s clearly the best candidate to become the next BYU head coach based on one comment he made to USA Today reporter Paul Myerberg not too long ago.
“It’s football. We’re not looking for a cure for cancer or trying to build a spaceship that’s going to Jupiter. I think sometimes in coaching, you spend too much time here,” he said. “If it takes you 18 hours a day sometimes to figure out what you’re doing, how the heck are your kids going to figure it out in a 45-minute meeting?”
Sound familiar? It’s the same credo to which all past BYU coaches have adhered. What is good for the goose is not good for the gander in Provo. It’s different there. Here are three reasons Kenny is the best fit as BYU football coach.
A flock–ironically, how Kenny refers to his Navy players, continuing on the punny reference–is definitely the correct term to describe BYU players. And so the flock does not play or practice on the Sabbath–same as its coach. If things go bad during a game–perhaps because Navy didn’t get as much work done as it would like? So be it, says Navy assistant Joe DuPaix–yes, of the Skyline High DuPaix name and an ex-BYU player and assistant–who told ex-BYU star Vai Sikahema in an article, “no one panics. We just shift into basic mode, which is part of the genius of the triple option and Kenny’s philosophy. He’s always telling them, ‘Football is easy. Soon, you guys will be doing way harder stuff.’”
There are few others in today’s landscape who are capable of handling, as today’s article in SB Nation put it, “half his roster leaving for two years on LDS missions; a strict honor code that forbids drinking, sex before marriage, pornography and beards; being viewed as standard bearers for a worldwide church; rigorous academics; life as an independent; and huge fan expectations, all without big money,” but if Niumatololo can handle a military academy like Navy and its strict standards, well, BYU might just be a cake walk. Also realize before you call this guy lazy, that he wakes up at 4 a.m. every morning to study scripture before he even thinks about talking about or studying football. However, if you think he doesn’t like or understand the sport, realize he’s won 66 games in nine years at Navy with less talent arguably than he’d ever have at BYU.
Faith is a big thing in life. In football, a coach must have faith in his players, and so it should come as no surprise that Niumatololo also has a mantra from which his coaching ideologies take root. In fact, it’s something he’s carried since he was a Navy assistant under Paul Johnson: “Work hard, have great coaches, believe in your kids.” It’s simple, yet it resonates throughout the Navy program just like his own emotions. And while it might not sound in some ways like BYU’s legendary gruff voice on the sideline–or LaVell Edwards–it’s honest and refreshing and actually, in other ways it sounds very much like LaVell, who cares deeply about all of his former players. “All of you who know me know I’m just a big crybaby,” Kenny finally said in an interview with the Washington Post. “I can’t begin to tell you how blessed I feel to coach this team and these kids.”