ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Former Navy trainer Ken Niumatalolo told ESPN Monday he was sitting alone at his locker after the Midshipmen lost double overtime to the rival Army in Philadelphia 20-17 on Saturday when athletic director Chet Gladchuk walked in and fired him .
“First of all, we just got a kick in the stomach,” said Niumatalolo. “I was a bit dazed before he said that, so I couldn’t understand most of it. I just said, ‘Chet, why don’t you take some time to relax?’ He said, ‘Well, it built up.'”
The two shared very different views on a coaching change in a program that doesn’t seek to make the college football playoffs but instead captures the nation’s attention annually with the pageantry and tradition of the Army-Navy game. Niumatalolo, the most successful coach in the program’s history at 109-83, earned a reputation for qualifying his players, avoiding his honest approach and avoiding NCAA violations, and while Gladchuk praised him for his lasting influence on the Midshipmen, he said the goals are to win the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy and earn bowl eligibility.
“That’s the constant yardstick that we’re striving for to achieve those two goals, which I think are very realistic, very reasonable and consistent for 20 years, so it’s no surprise,” Gladchuk said. “It’s just an expectation that unfortunately fell short.”
Gladchuk said Niumatalolo was told expectations “without any doubt” ahead of the season.
“I spoke directly to his representatives who asked me that very question,” Gladchuk said. “I conveyed it to them and I conveyed it to the head coach for 20 years … there is no confusion as to what the expectations are. And I think they’re realistic, they’re reasonable, they’re achievable. You are expected. You are endowed with resources. I can’t make it any clearer.
The Midshipmen finished the season with four or fewer wins for three straight years and are 2-5 with Army and 2-5 with Air Force in the last seven matchups 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 are unable to earn an extra year of eligibility – particularly for season-ending injuries and those from COVID devastated 2020 season – made it particularly difficult.
“The other two understand,” he said. “All the others who got their extra year from COVID, I’m not complaining about that – people deserve it. Why weren’t we given this opportunity? Especially when the other two were able to do some things that way. It was us in a one-off pandemic.”
Niumatalolo said Navy doesn’t wear a redshirt, so he has freshmen and sophomores against players from the other academies with a sixth-year eligibility beginning in 2020. He said he asked Gladchuk and the Navy superintendent if players could get an extra year the permission could be granted. however, was rejected because the government requires midshipmen to graduate in four years.
“We have to create a level playing field here,” he said. “If we had what they had, if I could stretch several guys each year…we share our indoor facility with gymnastics.” Who else in the country shares their indoor facility with gymnastics? There are times when we’re out there in the freezing rain. I wonder where else does anyone practice like this?
Niumatalolo also said that the other academies finish classes at noon, which he says is a significant advantage since the football program can feed players twice and hold meetings. He said Navy classes end at 3:20 p.m. and players sprint to practice. He asked for a change of schedule but was told that could not happen either. Gladchuk said many of the Navy’s instructions come from the Secretary of the Navy, acknowledging 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 the distractions and play by the rules we’ve been assigned and do just that. What was Air Force, 9-3? They also play by the same rules.”
With an experienced team that includes 22 returning starters to take on a vastly different American Athletic Conference with Cincinnati, Houston and UCF leaving for the Big 12 looming, Niumatalolo said he has asked to complete the remainder of his contract year .
“And if we lose next year,” he said, “don’t worry about firing me. i will quit You don’t have to pay me a dime. I’m not looking for a raise, that’s not me I’m looking for anything. I just want to end my contract. We are finally emerging from the pandemic. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. I thought we stood for something else.”
Gladchuk said the return experience and conference realignment was “part of the thought process,” but it was more than that.
“It wasn’t a fumble or even a lost game on Saturday,” said Gladchuk. “These goals and expectations have been set for years. … I’m thinking of our corporate relationships. I think of our television appearances. I think of our responsibility to the conference, to our alumni.”
Niumatalolo said he wasn’t bitter but said he felt he needed to defend himself and explain his record to the academies in recent years.
“I’m a competitor,” he said. “I’m having a hard time believing we have the ball on the 6-inch line and this is my last game. That’s hard to fathom. If we win, he won’t fire me. How do you fire a guy after winning the army? -Navy game? That will not happen.”
https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/35240443/niumatalolo-says-navy-fired-immediately-loss-army Niumatalolo says Navy fired him immediately after loss to Army