Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo watches as players warm up before an NCAA college football game against Memphis Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn.

Ken Niumatalolo is unexpectedly absent from the Navy football offices and has emerged as the leading candidate to replace Rich Rodriguez as Arizona's football coach.

Niumatalolo, a disciple of former UA coach Dick Tomey, is the favorite following the final round of interviews. Niumatalolo has been offered the job, a source close to the situation told the Star.

A native of Hawaii, Niumatalolo has been the head coach at Navy for the past 10 years. The Midshipmen have gone 84-47 during that span, qualifying for a bowl game in all but one season.

Niumatalolo, 52, played quarterback at Hawaii and coached for three seasons at UNLV before becoming an assistant at Navy. He has been linked to precious few jobs during his time at Navy; two years ago, he interviewed for a BYU opening that went to Kalani Sitake. He was linked in the media to recent job postings at Oregon, Oregon State and Cal. 

Like the other service academies, Navy runs the option. One of the big questions if Niumatalolo gets the UA job is whether he would bring that system with him or tweak it to suit the talents of Arizona’s players, including star quarterback Khalil Tate. Tate tweeted Friday that he didn't come to Arizona to run the triple option; the Wildcats' star quarterback removed his tweet shortly after. 

One other coach, Jedd Fisch, is believed to have made a strong impression on UA athletic director Dave Heeke. Fisch spent last season as UCLA's offensive coordinator, and coached the Bruins in this year's Cactus Bowl. He isn’t expected to be retained by new UCLA coach Chip Kelly. The 41-year-old Fisch has extensive NFL experience and runs more of a pro-style scheme. Before UCLA, Fisch was the passing-game coordinator under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan.

UA interim coach/defensive coordinator Marcel Yates interviewed for the head-coaching job, the Star has learned. However, there are no indications that Yates — who's immensely popular among the current players, including Tate — is seriously in the running.

The Wildcats are looking to replace Rodriguez, who was fired the night of Jan. 2 after a $7.5 million notice of claim was filed against him. In it, his former administrative assistant accused Rodriguez of running a hostile workplace and sexual harassment. 


Michael is an award-winning journalist who has been covering sports professionally since the early '90s. He started at the Star in 2015 after spending 15 years at The Orange County Register. Michael is a graduate of Northwestern University.