My feature story on Navy football coach Ken Niumatalolo was posted online Sunday, Aug. 28, and printed this past week in the Mormon Times section of the Deseret News. I relished the opportunity to visit with and get to know coach Niumatalolo, his family, and write about his “playbook of principles.”
The theme of the article focused on Niumatalolo’s dedication to the gospel of Jesus Christ, his devotion to family and how they have helped him find success as a college football coach. I found the coach to be very approachable, friendly, unafraid of any question, and humble.
As much as I wanted to include everything we talked about in the article, there just wasn’t room. So I would like to share some leftover thoughts and comments made by the coach, his wife and son, the deleted scenes so to speak, of our conversations that didn’t make it in.
Regarding missionary work, coach Niumatalolo said he is often asked questions about the LDS Church, which he gladly answers, but he doesn’t push his beliefs on anyone, especially players.
“Being the head coach you have a captive audience, but it would not be right for me to push anything besides the principles of teaching and coaching football to my players. They can believe in what they they choose. We all have free agency. I try to be an example,” he said. “That is the way I approach things.”
As a prominent LDS figure on the East Coast and the young men’s president of his ward, the coach is occasionally approached by young men who want to talk about missionary service. Often, he said, the young man is troubled about whether or not to to serve a mission and wants advice, assuming Niumatalolo will advise him to pray about it. The coach always comes back with a very straight forward response.
“Why do you need to pray? The Lord has already told you through his servants what you are supposed to do – you are supposed to go. Prepare yourself and when you are 19, you go,” Niumatalolo said. “Now, if someone is praying to confirm a mission call, that’s different. That’s good. But confirmation about going on a mission, you don’t need to pray. The answer is yes, so prepare yourself. That is how I feel.”
Barbara Niumatalolo, Ken’s wife, said she met her future husband at a dance when she was a student at BYU-Hawaii and he was recently returned from his mission in Ventura, Calif.
“We had mutual friends,” said Barbara, who teaches early morning seminary in the basement of the Niumatalolo home. “The first thing I noticed about him was his muscles, I am not going to lie. After that it was important to me to find a returned missionary with a strong testimony, who treated me well and was fun to be with. We got along well on many levels and fell in love fast. We are different in some ways, but we are best friends. It was meant to be.”
The Niumatalolos have three children. The second oldest, Va’a, was a great high school football player, but wasn’t offered any scholarships. He had the option of playing at Navy, but decided against playing for his father for obvious reasons. He was offered the chance to walk on at Utah or BYU. Although Kyle Whittingham is a close friend of his father, he chose BYU after participating in a Polynesian all-star game in Southern California.
“All the kids I was playing with were going to BYU,” Va’a said. “It just made sense to go there.”
What are some of the perks of growing up the son of a college football coach? Va’a said he loved being on the sidelines for games at Notre Dame, Ohio State and other legendary college stadiums. When the Midshipmen defeated Army and Air Force to win the coveted Commander-in-Chief Trophy, he got to meet the president of the United States.
“When he came into the room and everyone stood up, he shook my hand. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s President Obama.’ My sister and I were kinda star struck,” Va’a said. “He asked my name and what school I attended, I almost forgot.”
Va’a says he has learned a lot from his parents and appreciates their righteous example. As he enters college and continues to prepare for a mission, he takes comfort in knowing his parents have taught him how to live the gospel. “Being a member of the church has helped me in every way. It gives me the foundation I need, the priorities I need to have, the morals I need to uphold,” Va’a said. “I wouldn’t be the person I am without it. I would probably be a lazy bum. The gospel has shaped me into the person I am and everything I want to be.”
In addition to being a Utah fan this fall, I will also be pulling for the Navy Midshipmen.