Ken Niumatalolo: 'If it's only about winning, people sell their souls to the devil'

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Friday May 26, 2017

Ken Niumatalolo says program accountability starts with the head coach keeping the staff accountable.

The Navy coach joined the USA Football Coach and Coordinator Podcast for a wide-ranging chat, and he says the success of a program always comes back to its purpose. At Navy, that purpose is clear.

“I really believe it starts with, what’s your Why?” Niumatalolo said. “The mission of our program is everywhere. All of the coaches have it, people on our strength staff, people in the training room, video department. We’re all on the same page. We’re all going the same way. It all starts with the Why.

“The Why of our program is very clear: Develop young men of character and leadership. That’s our Why. It’s not to win games. It’s not to go to this bowl game. That’s our Why. I always believe the Why dictates the What and How of your program.”

At a program like Navy, developing service members is the most important goal. But if a coach doesn’t win, he doesn’t keep his job, like any other program.

But Niumatalolo says he sees programs that put winning above everything else, and that’s when problems happen — and are allowed to happen.

If your Why is only about winning, then I think people sell their souls to the devil,” he said. “They’ll do whatever it takes to win. They’ll cheat, they’ll morally do things they know aren’t right just to get the W. If your Why is clear, if it’s something with value and good intentions, the What and How you do things, then recruiting’s easy.

“You’re not going to cheat, you’re going to do what’s right, how you practice, you won’t do things against the rules. This game is a brutal game, it’s very demanding, a big business. If you forget your Why is not centered on good principles, that’s when things start to happen, you start seeing programs do things they shouldn’t be doing. It’s intentional.”

Niumatalolo lays that out clearly to his staff, which includes some of the longest-tenured assistants in college football, but also some newer faces.

“Ou staff has been together a long time. I know all the coaches and their wives and kids,” he said. “We go to bowl games, and the back of the plane is a romper room. I have a great amount of respect for the coaches and families. If you guys can’t block and tackle, we’ll get it fixed. If we can’t catch the ball, we’ll get it fixed. If we can’t cover people, we’ll get it fixed. But if you’re doing stuff off the field or if you’re cheating or doing things that are going to bring a dark cloud to the academy or program, I’ll fire you.

“You’ve got to hold people accountable. How can you hold players accountable if your staff isn’t held to a standard? Those are things we talk about as a staff. Just do what’s right. Everybody knows what’s right and wrong. Just work hard, do what’s right. If it’s good enough to win, great. If it’s not, it’s not. We’ll move forward.”

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News,, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to