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Navy football coach fired in locker room after Army loss

Navy football players huddle up before kickoff against Army on December 10, 2022. (Photo by Liz George)
December 13, 2022

The Naval Academy fired its longtime head football coach in the locker room immediately after a 20-17 loss to its traditional West Point rivals in the Army-Navy game last weekend.

Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo took over the team in 2008 and saw its existing winning streak against the Army Black Knights extended another eight years. With his win-loss record of 109-83, the academy dubbed him the “winningest coach” in its history.

But Army has been pulling ahead in recent years, winning five of seven games since breaking Navy’s 14-year winning streak. Even outside the rivalry, the Navy Midshipmen have gone 11-23 over their last three seasons and have had only one winning season in the last five years.

Those were the reasons the academy laid out for Niumatalolo’s firing in an announcement the day after the game. But Niumatalolo found out his fate much sooner than that, he told ESPN. He said he was sitting alone in the locker room when the academy’s athletic director, Chet Gladchuk, fired him on the spot.

“First of all, we just got kicked in the gut,” Niumatalolo said. “I was a little bit numb prior to him saying that, so most of it I couldn’t comprehend. I’m just like, ‘Chet, why don’t you take some time to relax.’ He said, ‘Well, it’s been building up.'”

In a press conference, Gladchuk said Niumatalolo had fallen short of two key goals: winning the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy and qualifying for post-season bowl games, neither of which the Navy has done since 2019.

“That’s been the constant bar we strive for, is to achieve those two goals, which I believe are very realistic, very reasonable and have been consistent for 20 years and therefore this does not come as any surprise,” Gladchuk said, adding that Niumatalolo was informed of the expectations “without any question of a doubt.”

Navy’s defensive coordinator, Brian Newberry, was named interim head coach.

Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck thanked Niumatalolo “for his service” in a statement released Monday, according to Military Times.

“He has led our football team to many successful seasons, but more importantly, he has developed resilient leaders of character for our Navy and Marine Corps,” Buck said. “I thank Coach Niumatalolo for everything he has done for the team, the brigade, and for our institution over the years, and wish him and his family all the best in the future.”