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Amid Ken Niumatalolo-to-Arizona rumors, Wildcats’ star QB tweets: ‘I didn’t come to Arizona’ to run the triple option

  • Sat, 13 Jan 2018 02:36

That’d be quite a change.

Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo is a candidate for the same job at Arizona, Football Scoop reports on Friday, with a hiring decision “coming soon.” The Arizona Daily Star reports Niumatalolo is a “strong candidate” for the Wildcats. Arizona fired Rich Rodriguez in early January amid reported workplace misconduct allegations.

Niumatalolo’s triple-option offense prompted this response from star quarterback Khalil Tate, who’d be running that offense if the coach came to Arizona:

(That’s not a verified Twitter account, but it is Tate’s, according to a few media members who have kept up with it.)

For good reason, Niumatalolo’s name comes up periodically in Power 5 coaching searches. He’s built Navy into one of the most consistent programs in college football, putting together an 84-48 record over his 10 years in charge in Annapolis so far. His Midshipmen have won at least seven games in all but one season, including a 7-6 mark in 2017. He’s beaten Army all but twice, dropping heartbreakers the last two years.

Niumatalolo is a disciple of Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson. That includes a deep commitment to the flexbone offense, an option scheme. Like Army and Air Force, Navy runs the ball over and over again and is content to control the clock and plod slowly up the field. The Mids’ bowl game in 2017 was a 49-7 win over Virginia in which Navy completed zero passes and held the ball for 42 minutes of clock time.

Going from Rodriguez to Niumatalolo would be, uh, quite a change.

Rodriguez is one of the coaches who ushered in the sport’s current spread offense era. He’s widely credited with creating the zone-read option out of a mistake in 1991, when a quarterback of his at little Glenville State College fumbled a snap and then took off running past a crashing defensive end.

Rodriguez was a mixed bag at Arizona and sputtered at Michigan, but before that, he built one of the most devastating spread offenses of the century at West Virginia. In 2017, quarterback Khalil Tate put up huge numbers and baffled defenses as he torched them on QB runs out of the shotgun.

Niumatalolo’s flexbone has some things in common with the modern spread. Both systems involve tons of option reads, including on almost every play in the flexbone. Both involve quarterbacks running the ball regularly.

But the personnel packages and formations are way different, and so, in a way, are their goals: The shotgun spread prioritizes giving athletes the ball in open space, while the triple option is about grinding a defense to dust with numbing, slow efficiency.

All of which is to say: If Niumatalolo replaced Rodriguez in any job, it’d be one hell of a science experiment for the first year or two.

Niumatalolo has always stuck with Navy in the past despite reported involvement in other searches.

He’s built an excellent program there, which now contends annually in the best Group of 5 conference, the AAC. He’s not subject to ordinary scholarship limits at a service academy, and he’s figured out how to recruit despite plenty of challenges.

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