Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo is weighing whether to become the next coach of the Arizona Wildcats.
Niumatalolo met with his staff in Annapolis, Maryland, on Saturday morning with an offer from the UA in hand. The assistants emerged from that meeting uncertain whether Niumatalolo would go or stay — perhaps because he wasn’t sure himself.
Niumatalolo, 52, met with Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk later in the day.
Gladchuk told the Capital Gazette of Annapolis that Niumatalolo was “thinking it through on all fronts. We will have a clearer picture over the next 24 hours.”
It’s possible that the decision could linger into Monday. A devout Mormon, Niumatalolo does not work on Sundays. Additionally, Navy and Army have a basketball doubleheader Sunday, and Niumatalolo might not want to upstage it. He also could wait until Sunday evening, when the basketball games are over, to make an announcement.
Whether the UA is willing to wait until Monday remains to be seen. If the two sides aren’t able to reach an agreement, Arizona would have to move on to other options with national signing day (Feb. 7) looming. The UA signed 16 players in December but would like to add to its class.
Navy is hosting recruits this weekend. Niumatalolo might be delaying an announcement to avoid interfering with a key recruiting period for the Midshipmen, who reportedly would promote offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper if Niumatalolo were to leave.
It’s unclear what exactly is giving Niumatalolo pause, although it could be his feelings for the United States Naval Academy. He has been on the staff there for 20 years, the past 10 as head coach. He has compiled an 84-48 record with nine bowl appearances.
Niumatalolo interviewed with BYU in December 2015 but did not take the job. Conflicts over staffing reportedly factored into his decision.
Reservations on Arizona’s end about Niumatalolo’s offensive scheme — the triple-option — also could be delaying the process.
Niumatalolo has operated the run-heavy system throughout his career at Navy. Similar systems are in place at the other service academies, which utilize the option to compensate for deficiencies in size and athleticism.
Georgia Tech is the only Power 5 Conference school that runs a triple-option attack. When word spread Friday that Niumatalolo was the leading candidate at Arizona, Wildcats quarterback and possible Heisman Trophy candidate Khalil Tate tweeted that he didn’t come to Tucson to run the triple-option. Tate deleted the tweet shortly afterward.
The previous night, Tate sat next to UA president Robert C. Robbins at the Wildcats’ basketball game against Oregon State. First-year athletic director Dave Heeke is running the interview process.
One of Niumatalolo’s colleagues suggested Saturday that the Navy coach would adjust his system as needed.
“He’s an adaptive coach,” Baylor’s Matt Rhule told Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports. “He can make Tate or any QB a force. He has all the same principles of Chip Kelly and the other spread offensive minds. They’ll be prolific.”
Under Niumatalolo, quarterback Keenan Reynolds finished fifth in the Heisman race in 2015. No Arizona player ever has finished that high.
Reynolds rushed for 1,373 yards and 24 touchdowns in ’15. He completed 61 of 115 passes for 1,203 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception. He averaged 9.2 pass attempts per game over his four-year career.
Tate averaged 16.3 attempts in 11 games last season, including eight starts. He threw only seven passes against Oregon State on Nov. 11 and a season-high 35 against Oregon the following week.
Arizona became more run-oriented in 2017 under Rich Rodriguez, who was fired Jan. 2 amid allegations that he created a hostile workplace and sexually harassed a former employee.
Heeke and Robbins said they had concerns about the “direction and climate” of the football program under Rodriguez. Rhule praised Niumatalolo’s character, tweeting: “If I could have my son play for anyone other than me, it would be Ken Niumatalolo.”
Arizona hired search firm DHR International to help find Rodriguez’s successor. Heeke also has been consulting with former UA coach Dick Tomey, who has a long history with Niumatalolo. Tomey, who coached for 10 years in Niumatalolo’s native Hawaii, recommended his protégé for the position.
Niumatalolo’s desire to be closer to his home state and children — all of whom live in the West — is another reason the Arizona job appeals to him.