Ken Niumatalolo won’t return as Navy soccer coach after 15 years

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Ken Niumatalolo will not return as coach of the Navy football team next season after 15 years with the Midshipmen, athletic director Chet Gladchuk announced Sunday, adding that defensive coordinator Brian Newberry has been appointed interim head coach.

The stunning move comes less than 24 hours after the Midshipmen ended their season in an agonizing 20-17 loss to Army in double overtime at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. It was the first time in its long history that the Army-Navy game had been decided in overtime.

“Our sincere gratitude goes to Coach Ken for his distinguished and impactful legacy at the Naval Academy,” Gladchuk said in a statement. “Navy football thrived under his leadership for many years. He will always be remembered for the impact he had on the lives of those who played for him.”

Niumatalolo has the most wins of any football coach in school history, owning a career record of 109-83. His 10 wins over Army is the most by any coach on either side in the series’ 123-game history.

Army-Navy goes to OT for the first time and ends in heartbreak for the Mids

The Midshipmen had double-digit wins on three occasions under Niumatalolo, including breaking the school record with 11 in 2015 and matching that total in 2019. They also went 10-4 in his second full season in 2009 after taking on Paul Johnson, who departed for Georgia Tech.

In the Navy’s first two seasons in the AAC, Niumatalolo led the Midshipmen to a share of the West Division title in 2015 and the division overall championship in 2016. The Midshipmen also shared the division title in 2019.

From 2012 to 2015, Niumatalolo coached Keenan Reynolds, who became the most successful quarterback of the triple option era. Reynolds set the NCAA record for career touchdowns with 88.

However, in the past three years, the Navy has risen from 11 to 23. The Midshipmen have had a winning season in five years, going 4-10 against the Army and Air Force for the past seven seasons. They have lost five of their last seven meetings with the Army and won the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy just once since 2016.

Navy was hit harder than most programs by coronavirus restrictions in 2020, and the team has struggled mightily since then.

“We all have great respect and appreciation for his 25 years of service to the academy,” Gladchuk said. “The Naval Academy will now move forward with continued high ambition and usher in a new era of confirmed expectations for Navy football and our midshipmen.”

A sign that a change seemed to be on the cards came last season when Gladchuk fired offensive coordinator Ivin Japser immediately after a 23-3 loss to the Air Force without discussing the move with Niumatalolo. Jasper was back on the staff two days later as quarterbacks coach after Niumatalolo and Gladchuk met. Niumatalolo has been the de facto offensive coordinator ever since, and the team ranks 106th in the nation with 21.9 points per game this season. The Mids rank 111th on total offense with 326.8 yards per game. The offense has struggled in four of the past five years, with the 11-2 season producing a record-breaking performance from quarterback Malcolm Perry in 2019.

The last game of Niumatalolo’s Navy career ended with a 39-yard field goal from Army kicker Quinn Maretzki in double overtime after Midshipmen defenseman Anton Hall Jr. fumbled at the goal line. The Black Knights recovered and ran three times before attempting the decisive kick.

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