Ken Niumatalolo is a real candidate to be the next head coach at Arizona, sources tell FootballScoop on Wednesday. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury-News tweeted something similar on Wednesday morning.
He was also close to taking the Arizona job the last time it came open, getting as far as negotiating with the Wildcats before U of A quarterback Khalil Tate nuked the deal out of an aversion to the triple option offense Niumatalolo runs at Navy.
"I didn't come to Arizona to run the tripple (sic) option," Tate tweeted on Jan. 12, 2018 before deleting it. Niumatalolo walked away from the search two days later.
“I had to make sure I was heard, make sure the team was heard, because my teammates didn’t want to run the triple option, either,” Tate said at the time. “So the idea was to tweet it out, let it get traction, then delete it. I knew people reading it would say, ‘Why did he delete it?’ But that just magnifies it more.”
Though this point was lost on Tate at the time, Niumatalolo runs the triple offense at Navy because that's the offense that fits with Navy, not because he's personally devoted to that specific offense. While it's natural to assume the opposite (especially since Paul Johnson brought the triple with him from Navy to Georgia Tech), the belief within the coaching industry is that Niumatalolo would design his offense to fit whatever school he worked at, not the other way around.
Arizona hired Kevin Sumlin instead. He was let go on Sunday after going 9-20 in three seasons.
Tate, a darkhorse Heisman candidate in 2017 after rushing for 1,411 yards and throwing for 1,591 in nine full games, never recaptured that magic under Sumlin. He remained Arizona's quarterback through 2018 and '19 but rushed for just 637 yards combined over those two seasons while finishing second and ninth in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency.
Niumatalolo also considered openings at BYU and Boston College previously before opting to remain in Annapolis. He has led Navy since 2008 and been a part of the Naval Academy's football program for all but three seasons dating back to 1995.
Niumatalolo is 101-67 with 10 bowl appearances in his 13 seasons, but Navy has finished under .500 in two of its last three seasons, sandwiched around an 11-2 campaign with a No. 20 final ranking in 2019. After taking 14 straight games from Army from 2002-15, Navy has now dropped four of the last five to its arch-rival. Niumatalolo has also voiced frustrations about the Naval Academy's ability to compete in the American Athletic Conference.
A devout Mormon, Niumatalolo also took a major regional role within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 2019, and taking the Arizona job would presumably require him to relinquish that post.
We'll keep you posted as we hear more about this one. Arizona has plenty of other quality candidates as well.
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.