I had a chance to catch up with Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo about his program's future in the Big East. He already made headlines for his opinion on the future of the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy. Here is a little more of what he had to say.
What impact does moving to the Big East have on you from an on-the-field football perspective?
Ken Niumatalolo: It’s already helped us in recruiting. Academically, we’re still going to recruit the same kids but what this has allowed us to do -- we’ve always sold you can come and play Division I football and get a world-class education but now we can sell that you’re going to play in a BCS conference. Every kid always has the dream of playing football on the highest level. With the guys we’ve recruited, it has opened doors already we wouldn’t have gotten into if the Big East wasn’t a part of that.
Are you looking for a different type of football player now?
KN: We’re trying to find the biggest, fastest guys, good football players that are good people that can fit into the academy. We’re not going to beat Stanford and Northwestern and the Vandys of the world on kids, but we may steal one kid. They can’t sign everybody. We’re hoping maybe we can get one of those guys and if you get a couple of those guys like that, they change your program. In size and speed those are the things you’re looking for. Maybe with us being in this environment will help us. Having said that, I know it’s going to be hard to compete in the Big East on a week in and week out basis. I was just concerned about the other side of it, where do we go? I understand what’s going to happen. We’ve played very good football programs -- Ohio State, South Carolina and people like that. But we didn’t play them every week. I don’t know if the guys we’re recruiting are going to be bigger and faster. We think it’s going to get us into those homes more. We know we’ve got to try our best, but they’re going to be long years in the Big East. We have to make sure we can be as competitive as we can be.
You mention that grind, which is something that you guys haven’t had to do.
KN: Well, really every game that we play is a grind. Everybody that we play is bigger than us. Delaware is bigger than us. We play I-AA teams that are bigger than we are. We’ll try our best to get up to caliber but continue to recruit the same type of kids. I don’t want to compromise who we are. We’re not trying to lower academic requirements. I feel like there are enough good football players around the country that have good enough grades to get into the academy. We’re going to recruit nationally. Most of these schools might recruit regionally. Maybe we’ll be ready for the grind. The grind of the academy allows us to compete right now. If it wasn’t for the grind of the academy, the lives that they live, academic requirements -- we have some tough-minded kids here. Hopefully we can get a little better player, take them through the process, toughen them up for the grind, and we’ll see what happens.
What is your No. 1 concern with the move?
KN: The preparation factor. We need a couple more strength coaches. We’ve never had a full time recruiting coordinator. We’ve had a recruiting coordinator, but he’s also a part-time coach. We’ve never had a football operations guy. So things like that I’m thinking we have to do like all the other BCS programs have so our football coaches can concentrate on coaching. We’ve had some success here in the past. I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel but we have to refine our skills. Where can we improve, how can we be better? I’m in discussion with our athletic director to improve our facilities. Those are the ways I’m thinking about to help us compete. What we do from an offensive and defensive standpoint will give us a chance to compete. If we go into that league and run a conventional offense, it would be very difficult for us to compete.
What can you take away from what Air Force has done in a conference, and what did not work for Army in Conference USA?
KN: We looked at both situations …. The thing Air Force was done when Fisher [DeBerry] came or even before that, they got an offense that fit them. They understood who they were; they ran the option and didn’t care about what was the trend of the day. They did something that gave them a chance. They were strong enough in who they were and they believed in it. They run a 3-4 scheme (on defense), just have to have one big guy at the nose and the rest can be more outside linebacker type guys. Size-wise it gave them a chance to compete on defense.
What happened to Navy and Army, both ran option but succumbed to public pressure -- we need to throw the football. Both went and got conventional pro-style coaches who are great coaches but quickly realized the academies are different. If anything can be taken away from Air Force, I commend them and applaud them for being strong in who they are, and saying this is what allows us to win. They stayed true to their schemes. They tweaked it and so will we, but the core of who they are in the option still remains in place and that has allowed them to have a foundation. … I’m looking more toward the future, not looking at what Army did with C-USA. Looking ahead that landscape is going to change. The signs are all over the place. I wish things would stay the same. We love being independent. It was a perfect match for us. But before we get caught outside without any shelter, we wanted to make sure we protected ourselves.
What is the ultimate goal as members of the Big East?
KN: Obviously we always want to win. As a team if your goal isn’t to win a conference championship, you shouldn’t go into a conference. But I’m realistic. If we happen to go 7-5 and get to a bowl game, we should have a parade because that’s going to be hard to do. I understand better than anybody how difficult that’s going to be. So you always start with your goals, to shoot for the stars, be a competitor and always do your best.