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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 6:37 p.m., Saturday, December 8, 2007

Navy football keeps Hawaii ties, hires Ken Niumatalolo

Advertiser Staff and News Services

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk already had a new coach in mind when Paul Johnson left for Georgia Tech on Friday after six successful seasons.

Assistant Ken Niumatalolo, a University of Hawai'i alum, was promoted to the head coaching job today.

"After the Army-Navy game, I kind of tapped him on the shoulder and said, 'Hey Kenny, if anything comes about I want to talk to you," Gladchuk said.

The decision was easy, given that Gladchuk wanted a coach who would continue Johnson's potent triple-option offense.

"Fundamentally, at Navy it's going to be the triple option," Gladchuk said. "It's an offense that has been really successful for us and given us that edge, that dimension. If you look at who's out there that can run the triple option, I consider Kenny one of the masters."

Navy said Niumatalolo is believed to be the first Polynesian head coach in NCAA Division I-A history and the first Samoan collegiate head coach on any level.

Niumatalolo, 42, is a 1992 graduate of the University of Hawai'i and a former quarterback and assistant coach. Johnson was a Hawai'i assistant from 1987 to 1994.

"Hopefully, if I do well it will open doors for some other guys," he said. He was born and raised in Hawai'i and graduated from Radford High.

Niumatalolo said it didn't concern him that Johnson might continue to get credit for the Midshipmen's vaunted rushing attack.

"I don't really care whose offense we call it. We're going to use it because it works," he said. "I've been involved with this offense for 20 years. I've called the plays for this offense before. I learned a lot from Paul about the various wrinkles and how to make adjustments."

Niumatalolo had two coaching stints at Navy for a total of 10 seasons, including the last six, when he was assistant head coach and offensive line coach.

Johnson enjoyed unprecedented success at Navy. The Midshipmen went 45-29 in his six seasons, including 43-19 over the last five years, and recorded six straight wins over Army for the first time in history.

"We want to continue to dominate the other academies," Niumatalolo said. "We look forward to keeping this machine going."

Niumatalolo played a major role in installing the triple-option attack, which enabled Navy to set the school's single-season scoring record this year. He will coach the Midshipmen against Utah in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 20.

Navy led the nation in rushing in four of the last five years, including each of the past three seasons, a first in NCAA history. The Midshipmen are averaging a school-record 351.5 yards rushing per game this year.

A 1989 graduate of Hawaii, Niumatalolo lettered three years as a quarterback and led the Rainbow Warriors to their first postseason bowl in 1989. He was hired as a full-time assistant by his alma mater in 1992 and spent three seasons as an offensive assistant coach.

Navy players praised the decision to hire Niumatalolo.

"I think it's a great move. Personally, I'm happy because we've got a coach who really knows the option," said junior quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, a Kapolei High alum. "We got a curveball thrown at us on Friday, but we woke up (Saturday) and found out we already have a new coach."