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Ex-Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo surprised by sudden firing: 'I thought we stood for something different'

Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk didn’t waste any time on Saturday afternoon.

According to former Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, Gladchuk fired him just minutes after they lost 20-17 in double overtime to Army in Philadelphia when he was sitting by himself at his locker in the locker room.

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

Navy announced Sunday that it had fired Niumatalolo after 15 seasons. Niumatalolo finished with a 109-83 record with Navy, which made him the winningest coach in program history. The Midshipmen finished the 2022 season with a 4-8 record, and they went a combined 11-23 over the past three seasons.

Niumatalolo was an assistant at Navy from 2002-07 before he was promoted to the top job.

“It was a great run, but I wasn’t ready for it to be over,” Niumatalolo said, via the Capital Gazette. “I’m still healthy, I’m still strong, I wanted to finish this up, but Chet had other plans.”

Navy AD: Our expectations were clear

Gladchuk said Monday that his expectations for the football program were extremely clear.

He wants the program to reach a bowl game each season, and he wants the team to win the Commander-In Chief’s Trophy given to the team that wins the series played between the three service academies. The Midshipmen have gone 2-5 against both Army and Air Force in the past seven years.

Those goals, Gladchuk said, have been the same for decades.

“That has been the constant bar we strive for, is to achieve those two goals, which are, I believe, 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.”

“Without any question of a doubt,” Gladchuk said Monday, Niumatalolo knew these were his expectations.

“I spoke directly to his representatives who asked me exactly that question,” Gladchuk said. “I conveyed it to them and I conveyed it as I mentioned for 20 years to the head coach … There’s no confusion with regard to what the expectations are. And I think they’re realistic. They’re reasonable. They’re attainable. They’re expected. They’re resourced, at a minimum to that. I can’t make it any clearer.”

Niumatalolo said he asked Gladchuk to simply let him finish out his contract instead of firing him now. Niumatalolo only had one year left on his deal, and Navy is set to return 22 starters next season — which will play in a different AAC with Cincinnati, Houston and UCF all leaving for the Big 12.

Yet Gladchuk apparently couldn’t be swayed, even with the promise that Niumatalolo would step away should he fail.

“And if we lose next year, don’t worry about firing me. I’ll resign,” Niumatalolo said he told Gladchuk, via ESPN. “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.”

Niumatalolo said he doesn’t think he was dealt a fair hand compared to the other academies, either. Navy’s facilities weren’t great, for one thing. The team had to share their indoor facility and practice outside in inclement weather at times, he said. Midshipmen are required to graduate in four years, too, meaning the team can’t have any players with a fifth or sixth year of eligibility like other programs do.

Regardless, Navy is moving on.

“I’m a competitor,” Niumatalolo said, via ESPN. “It’s hard for me to think that we got the ball on the six-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.”

Navy Midshipmen head coach Ken Niumatalolo

Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo was fired after the Midshipmen fell to Army last weekend. He is the program’s all-time winningest head coach. (Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)



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