2016 Purdue Football Coaching Search: Ken Niumatalolo
Candidate Tier #2
Category: Old(ish) Candidates
Who Is He?
Ken Niumatalolo is the current head coach at Navy. He’s in his ninth season in Annapolis as head coach, 15th consecutive season in any coaching capacity, and 19th season overall – he spent four years in various offensive positions at Navy before heading to UNLV for three and then back to Navy to work for Paul Johnson; when Johnson took the Georgia Tech job, Niumatalolo succeeded him, and he’s been there ever since.
Why would he be successful at Purdue?
His career record is 72-38. At Navy. He’s taken his teams to seven bowls in eight seasons. At Navy. He got the Midshipmen a share of the AAC West last season, matching Houston’s 7-1 record in conference play and going 11-2 overall, losing only to Notre Dame and Houston; the Midshipmen have already avenged the latter loss this season, and they have a decent chance to take care of the former on November 5.
In large part, this is because his team has the triple-option offense down pat. If you want to succeed at Navy, you can’t do what everyone else does: your pool of available players is much smaller. Wiser folks than I agree that the same is true in West Lafayette. Now, imagine seeing Jones, Worship and Lankford-Johnson in the backfield at the same time!
He’d have something of an advantage because it’s not completely different than what Hazell eventually wanted at Purdue: yeah, spread-to-run looks a lot different, but at least a number of the players are built for both offenses. It’s not like installing Air Raid, for example.
Why could he flop at Purdue?
Triple option, flexbone, anything along those lines. Not the easiest offenses to learn, nor to execute. Success comes from making a bunch of different plays look the same. If you can’t do that, you end up putting a bunch of not-as-fast, not-as-big people in the box for defenses like Wisconsin and Michigan and Ohio State to implode.
There’s also the question about whether or not a Power 5 team can consistently and successfully run such an offense. Part of what makes them so hard to defend is that you don’t see them often; give elite DCs enough practice, and they’ll eventually scheme for them.
(Wait, you say, doesn’t Paul Johnson run that against Georgia Tech? Patience, my friends. Perhaps we’ll cover that later. FORESHADOWING)
Would he come to Purdue?
Ask again later. Dude’s been successful at Navy for a long time, and he’s still there; Purdue wouldn’t be the first to come calling, so they might well follow in the steps of previous suitors. As MGoBlog’s Brian Cook points out in the link above, BYU came calling last year, and Niumatalolo stayed in Annapolis. (It’s not such an odd idea: Niumatalolo is a Mormon.) Purdue could likely top what he’s making at Navy, and Bobinski’s shown no reluctance to employ a coach that runs the triple option, but would a Mormon want to coach at a school that, shall we say, doesn’t quite have the same environment?
This is one of the few situations where a mid-season contract offer would probably be an advantage for Purdue. Right now, Niumatalolo is an appealing candidate for a number of schools, but when you take away the ones that are opposed to his offense, there might not be many suitors this year. But that win over Houston opens the door to a possible AAC championship game appearance and maybe even an upper-tier bowl … and if that happens, Bobinski will be hard-pressed to outbid a school in a better situation.
(The flip side of that scenario is that Niumatalolo isn’t exactly chomping at the bit to leave Navy. He’s likely content to stay in Annapolis as long as they’ll have him, so he could equally decide to leave for the job that suits him best, rather than the best opportunity from an outsider’s perspective.)