Walk past the football coach’s office Monday around 4 a.m., and you will find him alone, his back to the door, studying a book on his desk. It’s in the quiet solitude of those predawn hours that Navy’s head man, Ken Niumatalolo, becomes immersed in his playbook.
Not his football strategies, his scriptural playbook, the Book of Mormon.
“It’s his personal time. No one will bother him until he turns back forward in his desk,” said Barbara Niumatalolo, the coach’s wife. “If something touches him, he goes back to it during the day. It’s usually something he needs to hear to prepare him for that day.”
Daily scripture study is just one of many key strategies in Niumatalolo’s personal playbook of principles. Devotion to family, church service and living the gospel have helped the Mormon coach endure the rigors and stress of the college coaching lifestyle from Hawaii to Annapolis, Md., for almost two decades. Much of his success can be traced to something he learned at an early age.
“For me, growing up as a member of the church, I always knew as long as you are obedient, the Lord will bless you and everything will work out,” Niumatalolo said. “Gospel principles are universal.”
Putting the Lord first
Niumatalolo was born the fifth of seven children to Simi and Lamala Niumatalolo, who moved to Hawaii from American Samoa. He grew up in a small, tin-roof house on stilts 200 yards off the north shore of Oahu. His father worked for the Coast Guard before retiring to work in food services at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Two grandmothers and an uncle lived with the family, so space was limited. The family held tight to its Samoan roots.
“We weren’t rich, but we weren’t poor,” Niumatalolo said.
Niumatalolo led Radford High to a state title as a junior and finished his senior year 22-1 as the starting quarterback, then accepted a scholarship to the University of Hawaii. But even as his college career began, Niumatalolo felt out of place.
“I had accomplished my goal of getting a Division I scholarship but still wasn’t happy, and I knew why,” the coach said. “I was trying to mask the feeling that I needed to go on a mission.”
He submitted his papers and was called to speak Spanish in Ventura, Calif. From many lessons, a theme emerged that would stay with him for the rest of his life: “As you put the Lord first, everything else will work out.”