ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Former Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo told ESPN Monday he sat alone in his locker following the Midshipmen’s 20-17 double-overtime loss to rival Army in Philadelphia on Saturday. when athletic director Chet Gladchuk came in and fired him. .
“First of all, we just got kicked in the stomach,” Niumatalolo said. “I was a little numb before he said that, so I couldn’t understand most of it. I was just like, ‘Chet, why don’t you take some time to relax. He said, ‘Well, it’s been piling up.'”
The two shared very different perspectives on a coaching change in a program that isn’t trying to make the college football playoffs, but grabbing the nation’s attention every year with the pageantry and lore of the game. Army-Navy. Niumatalolo, the winningest coach in program history at 109-83, has earned a reputation for graduating his players, his honest approach and avoiding NCAA infractions, and while Gladchuk has Praised for the lasting impact he has had on the contenders, he said the goals are winning the Commander-in-Chief Trophy and earning Bowl eligibility.
“That’s been the consistent bar that we’re looking for is to hit those two goals, which I think have been very realistic, very reasonable and consistent for 20 years and so that’s no surprise,” Gladchuk said. “It’s just an expectation that unfortunately didn’t live up to it.”
Gladchuk said “without a doubt” expectations were communicated to Niumatalolo ahead of the season.
“I spoke directly to his reps, who asked me exactly that question,” Gladchuk said. “I passed it on to them and I passed it on for 20 years to the head coach… there’s no confusion about the expectations. And I think they’re realistic, they’re reasonable, they are achievable. They “We expect. They have resources. I can’t be clearer.”
The Midshipmen finished the season with four or less wins three straight years and are 2-5 in the last seven meetings with the Army and 2-5 against the Air Force in the same period. While the three service academies – Army, Navy and Air Force – face similar challenges, Niumatalolo said even a handful of his players cannot qualify for an extra year of eligibility – especially for injuries. end of season and the ravages of COVID. The 2020 season – has made it particularly difficult.
“The other two got it,” he said. “All those others who got their extra year because of COVID, I’m not complaining about that – people deserve it. Why weren’t we given that opportunity? Especially if the other two were able to do certain things that way. We were in a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.”
Niumatalolo said the Navy does not wear red shirts, so he has freshmen and sophomores facing players from the other academies with sixth-year eligibility starting in 2020. He said that he had asked Gladchuk and the Navy Superintendent if players could be given an extra year of eligibility, but was denied because the government requires midshipmen to graduate in four years.
“We have to make it a level playing field,” he said. “If we had what they had, if I was able to stretch multiple guys every year…we share our indoor facility with gymnastics. Who else in the country shares their indoor facility with gymnastics? There’s times when we’re out there in the freezing rain. I’m like, where else does anybody else train like that?”
Niumatalolo also said that the other academies finished lessons at noon, which he says is a significant advantage as the football program can feed players twice and hold meetings. He said Navy classes end at 3:20 p.m. and players sprint for practice. He asked for the schedule to change, but was told that couldn’t happen either. Gladchuk said much of the Navy’s advice comes from the Secretary of the Navy and admitted that midshipmen “have to deal with variables that in many cases are not similar.”
“We have to accept that,” he said. “We have to eliminate distractions and play by the rules given to us and succeed in doing just that. What is the Air Force, 9-3? They also play by the same rules.”
With a seasoned squad that includes 22 starters returning to face a very different American Athletics Conference with the looming departures of Cincinnati, Houston and UCF to the Big 12, Niumatalolo said he asked to complete the remaining year of his contract.
“And if we lose next year,” he said, “don’t worry about firing me. I’ll quit. You don’t have to pay me a dime. I’m not looking for a raise, I’m not I’m not I just want to finish my contract. We’re finally coming out of the pandemic. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. I thought we were standing for something different.
Gladchuk said the comeback experience and conference realignment were all “part of the thought process,” but it was more than that.
“It didn’t end in a fumble or even a lost game on Saturday,” Gladchuk said. “These goals and expectations have been set for years. … I think of our corporate relationships. I think of our TV shows. I think of our responsibility to the conference, our alumni.”
Niumatalolo said he was not bitter, but said he felt he had to defend himself and explain his record in recent years against the academies.
“I’m a competitor,” he said. “It’s hard for me to think that we had the ball on the 6-inch line, and it’s my last game. It’s hard to understand. If we win, he doesn’t kick me out. How do you turn- you a guy after winning the army -navy game?