Niumatalolo lands at UCLA, to serve advisory role
UCLA has hired former Navy football coach Ken Niumatalolo as the Bruins’ director of leadership, the school announced Friday.
Niumatalolo, Navy’s winningest head coach, was fired at his locker after the Midshipmen’s 20-17 double-overtime loss to rival Army in Philadelphia in December.
In his new role, Niumatalolo — who had a reputation for graduating his players, his honest approach and avoiding NCAA infractions — will serve as an adviser to UCLA football’s staff and players, according to the school’s release.
Niumatalolo told ESPN on Friday that although there were some other opportunities more specific to a coaching title, UCLA “felt right” to him because of previous ties to the area. There were also strong connections with the current staff, including his son, former Utah tight end Ali’i Niumatalolo, who was recently hired as an offensive line graduate assistant. Former Navy assistant coach Bryce McDonald is UCLA football’s chief of staff, and UCLA assistant coach Brian Norwood is one of Niumatalolo’s best friends.
“I feel blessed,” said Niumatalolo, who has recruited the West Coast his entire career. “I’m really excited to work with coach [Chip] Kelly. I don’t feel like UCLA is far off. He and I talked some of his vision of what he sees in the position I’m really excited about.
“It just tells you about how he is as a coach. He’s an established coach, he’s not threatened by me or anything, he’s not worried about somebody looking over his shoulder. That’s how Chip looks at it — anything I can add. They’re not far off, whatever I can bring, but it just felt right.”
During 15 seasons leading Navy, where he finished with a 109-83 record, Niumatalolo won six of 10 bowl games, both school records. No head coach had won eight consecutive games in the Army-Navy series until Niumatalolo began his career with that distinction (2008-15), and his 10 wins overall also stands as the most in the history of the rivalry. Niumatalolo’s squads earned the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, awarded annually to the military service academy team with the best regular-season record against the other two teams, a program-record six times. Niumatalolo also joined Wayne Hardin as the only Navy coaches to beat Notre Dame three times.
The Midshipmen had struggled recently, though. They finished with four or fewer wins three seasons in a row and were 2-5 against both Army and Air Force since 2016.
Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk’s decision to fire Niumatalolo wasn’t entirely surprising, but it was the unceremonious way he chose to do it that sparked backlash from former Navy players, coaches, donors and alumni. Niumatalolo told ESPN in December that he had asked Gladchuk to finish the remaining year on his contract.
Niumatalolo’s 2015 team won a program-record 11 games, an accomplishment later equaled in 2019, with both teams finishing in the top 20 of the final Associated Press Top 25, something that hadn’t been done by a Navy team since 1963. Niumatalolo guided the Midshipmen into the American Athletic Conference in 2015 and had immediate success, with the 2015 and 2019 teams tying for first place in the West Division and the 2016 squad winning the division outright.
Just the second Polynesian head coach in FBS history and the first Samoan head coach at any level, Niumatalolo was selected to the inaugural class of the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
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