Ken Niumatalolo’s 15-year tenure as Navy’s head football coach came to an abrupt end over the weekend, and the longtime coach described how the firing blindsided him. 

Niumatalolo told ESPN on Monday that after the Midshipmen’s 20-17 double-OT loss to rival Army on Saturday, Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk fired the head coach in the locker room.

“First of all, we just got kicked in the gut,” Niumatalolo told ESPN. “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.’”

Latter-day Saint head football coach Ken Niumatalolo out at Navy

Why was Ken Niumatalolo fired?

Gladchuk explained why Navy is moving on from the school’s all-time winningest coach — Niumatalolo went 109-83 as the Midshipmen’s coach after taking over following the 2007 regular season.

The goals for the Navy program, Gladchuk told ESPN, are to win the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy and to become bowl eligible.

“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. “It’s just an expectation that unfortunately fell short.”

Including Saturday’s loss, the Midshipmen are just 2-5 in their past seven meetings with Army. Niumatalolo went 8-0 against Army in his first eight years as head coach.

Navy has also gone 2-5 against Air Force in their past seven matchups.

The Midshipmen played in a bowl game nine of Niumatalolo’s first 10 seasons as head coach, but has made just one over the past five seasons as Navy has finished with four or fewer wins four of the past five years. 

“This didn’t come down to a fumble, or even a lost game on Saturday,” Gladchuk told ESPN. “These goals and expectations have been set for years. ... I think about our corporate relationships. I think about our television exposures. I think about our responsibility to the conference, our alumni.”

How did Ken Niumatalolo react to being fired?

Niumatalolo, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who previously interviewed with BYU when the Cougars’ head coaching job opened in 2015, defended his tenure at the service academy. 

“I’m a competitor,” he said. “It’s hard for me to think that we got the ball on the 6-inch line, and that’s my last game. That’s hard to fathom. If we win, he’s not firing me. How do you fire a guy after you win the Army-Navy game? That’s not going to happen.”

Niumatalolo led Navy to three double-digit win seasons during his tenure and the Midshipmen twice finished ranked in the final Associated Press poll, in 2015 and 2019.

Navy also went 6-5 in bowl games under him as head coach, after replacing Paul Johnson prior to the 2007 postseason.

The 57-year-old Niumatalolo said he asked to finish out the remaining year on his contract. Navy competes in the American Athletic Conference, which is losing UCF, Houston and Cincinnati to the Big 12 Conference next season.

“And if we lose next year,” he told ESPN, “don’t worry about firing me. I’ll resign. You don’t have to pay me a cent. I’m not looking for a raise, I’m not looking for anything. I just want to finish my contract. We’re finally coming out of the pandemic. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. I thought we stood for something different.”