Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk wasted no time on Saturday afternoon.
According to former Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, Gladchuk fired him just minutes after they lost to Army 20-17 in double overtime in Philadelphia as he sat alone at his locker in the locker room.
“First off, we just got kicked in the stomach,” Niumatalolo told ESPN’s Heather Dinich. “I was a bit dazed before he said that, so I couldn’t understand most of it. I just said, ‘Chet, why don’t you take some time to relax?’ He said, ‘Well, it built up.'”
The Navy announced Sunday that it had fired Niumatalolo after 15 seasons. Niumatalolo finished with a 109-83 record with Navy, making him the most successful coach in program history. The Midshipmen finished the 2022 season with a 4-8 record, and over the past three seasons they have gone 11-23 combined.
Niumatalolo was an assistant in the Navy from 2002 to 2007 before being promoted to the senior position.
“It was a great run, but I wasn’t ready for it to be over,” Niumatalolo said of the Capital Gazette. “I’m still healthy, I’m still strong, I wanted to finish this but Chet had other plans.”
Navy AD: Our expectations were clear
Gladchuk said on Monday his expectations for the football program were extremely clear.
He wants the program to achieve one bowl game each season, and he wants the team to win the Commander-In Chief’s Trophy, awarded to the team winning the series played between the three service academies. The Midshipmen have won 2-5 against both the Army and Air Force over the past seven years.
Those goals, Gladchuk said, have been the same for decades.
“That’s been the constant we’re striving for to achieve those two goals, which I think are very realistic, very reasonable and consistent for 20 years, so it’s no surprise,” Gladchuk said. “It’s just an expectation that unfortunately fell short.”
“Without a doubt,” Gladchuk said Monday, Niumatalolo knew those were his expectations.
“I spoke directly to his representatives who asked me that very question,” Gladchuk said. “I conveyed it to them and I conveyed it, as I’ve mentioned for 20 years, to the head coach … There’s no confusion as to what the expectations are. And I think they are realistic. You are reasonable. You are available. You are expected. At least they are equipped with resources. I can’t make it clearer.”
Niumatalolo said he asked Gladchuk to just let him run out of contract instead of firing him now. Niumatalolo had just a year left on his contract, and Navy will return 22 starters next season – who will play in another AAC, with Cincinnati, Houston and UCF all heading to the Big 12.
But Gladchuk seemed undeterred, even with the promise that if Niumatalolo failed, he would step down.
“And if we lose next year, don’t worry about firing me. I will resign,” Niumatalolo told Gladchuk via ESPN. “You don’t have to pay me a dime. I’m not looking for a raise, I’m not looking for anything.
“I just want to complete my contract. We are finally emerging from the pandemic. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. I thought we stood for something else.”
Niumatalolo said he also doesn’t think he got a fair hand compared to the other academies. For one thing, the Navy’s facilities weren’t great. The team has had to share its indoor facility and train outside at times during inclement weather, he said. Midshipmen are also required to graduate in four years, meaning the team cannot have players with a fifth or sixth year of eligibility like other programs do.
Regardless, the Navy moves on.
“I’m a competitor,” Niumatalolo said on ESPN. “I’m having a hard time believing we have the ball on the six-inch line and this is my last game. That’s hard to fathom. If we win, he won’t fire me. How do you fire a guy after winning the army? -Navy game? That will not happen.”