Navy football coach Ken Niumatalolo dismissed ongoing rumors he is a leading candidate for the vacancy at the University of Arizona.
“There’s nothing to it,” Niumatalolo told The Capital during a lengthy interview Monday afternoon. “I don’t know where those rumors come from … maybe because of last time, maybe because of our success as a program.”
Niumatalolo was immediately listed as a likely candidate after Arizona fired Kevin Sumlin following a three-year tenure. That was due largely to what happened in 2018 when Niumatalolo emerged as the top target, with some media outlets reporting he had been offered the job.
Niumatalolo, who just completed his 13th season at Navy, has never talked about how far things went with Arizona in 2018. He acknowledged traveling to Tucson to visit the campus and meet with school administrators but ultimately chose to stay in Annapolis.
Many believe a negative Twitter post by then-Arizona starting quarterback Khalil Tate torpedoed Niumatalolo’s candidacy. Tate, who was coming off a spectacular season, wrote that he did not join the Wildcats to run the triple option.
Upon returning from the trip out west, Niumatalolo spent a Sunday morning apparently contemplating the Arizona offer, then sent a text message to The Capital making clear his intentions.
“Let me just tell you so you know where I am at today, so you will know exactly my future plans. Beat Army!!!” Niumatalolo wrote in the text.
Later that day on Jan. 14, Arizona announced that it was hiring Sumlin, who had enjoyed success as coach at Houston and Texas A&M. He replaced Rich Rodriguez, who was fired following the 2017 season amid sexual harassment allegations.
Sumlin compiled a 9-20 record (6-17 in the Pac-12 Conference) during his three years at the helm. He went winless against archrival Arizona State, with this year’s 70-7 loss the most lopsided in the history of the Territorial Cup series, which dates to 1899.
Niumatalolo on Monday spoke in depth about what went wrong this season and how he intends to turn things around. Navy closed the 2020 campaign on a five-game losing streak and finished 3-7, just its second losing record since 2002.
Niumatalolo, Navy’s all-time winningest football coach with a 101-67 career record, spoke passionately about his expectations for the program in 2021. The 55-year-old Hawaii native expressed confidence the Midshipmen can complete another dramatic turnaround.
“We’re focused on getting our program back to where it was,” Niumatalolo said.
Navy went 11-2, captured the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy and upset Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl last season after struggling to a 3-10 record in 2018.
Niumatalolo was a hot commodity in 2018, having led Navy to winning records with bowl berths in nine of his 10 seasons at the helm. The Midshipmen won eight games or more in eight of those seasons and set a program record with 11 victories in 2015.
“I would hope people recognize we’re not a flash-in-the-pan program,” Niumatalolo said. “Hopefully, people recognize the longevity and track record.”
San Jose State coach Brent Brennan appears to have moved to the top of Arizona’s wish list. Brennan directed a dramatic turnaround at San Jose State, which went 7-0 and captured the Mountain West Conference championship this season. After posting a combined 3-22 record in his first two seasons, Brennan improved the Spartans to 5-7 in 2019 before breaking through this year.
Brennan, 47, was a graduate assistant at Arizona under former coach Dick Tomey in 2000. He later spent five years as an assistant at San Jose State under Tomey, a revered figure among Arizona football fans.
Sumlin was dismissed Dec. 12 and Arizona subsequently retained Turnkey Search to assist with the process of finding a replacement. Some media outlets have reported Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch interviewed for the job.