By Patrick Lujan
What Division I college football head coach sneaks in to Guam practically every summer without much hoopla?
U.S. Naval Academy head coach Ken Niumatolo – and he prefers it that way.
Niumatolo has been to Guam ‘about 10 times’ he says to visit his in-laws. Wife Barbara is the daughter of Jim and Rose Marie Cruz (remember Cruz Gas Station in Agana?).
GSPN caught up with the former University of Hawaii quarterback and the first Samoan head coach at any college level while he was here for his most recent visit – in particular, celebrating his mother-in-law’s 80th birthday.
GSPN: You’ve been here about 10 times. How comfortable are you when you come back to Guam?
Coach Ken: I love coming to Guam. We come here pretty much every summer to visit my in-laws. I feel very comfortable here. People are very nice, I love the food. It’s a great place to come and relax and get away from the stress of the season.
GSPN: Speaking of stress, Guam is a fairly stress-free place. On a rate from 1-10, compare the stress level as the Navy head football coach as compared to sitting on the beach on Guam.
Coach Ken: Being a Division I head coach is pretty stressful – I dont know, probably a 10. You can’t go to sleep at night because you always think about stuff. When I come here, my stress level is at zero. I enjoy myself, I take my son to workout at Paradise (Fitness). I love going to different places to eat, I love the Chamorro food. It’s always a great time for my family to come here. This is where my wife is from so I understand more how great she is as a person because the people of Guam are very nice people.
GSPN: You’re of Samoan decent but you are more familiar with Guam.
Coach Ken: I was born in American Samoa but moved to Hawaii when I was one. I just attended Troy Polamalu’s football camp in American Samoa and because I don’t go back there too often, I’m more familiar with the roads and places on Guam. I can drive around here and I know my way around.
GSPN: Heading into the new season, how does the team look compared to last year?
Coach Ken: Last year, we won the Commander-in-Chief Trophy again – we beat Air Force and Army – that’s always our main goal. We went to a bowl game, but we didn’t win (lost to Arizona State in the Fight Hunger Bowl). I feel really good about our team this year. We have our starting quarterback back – Keenan Reynolds – he was a freshman and I think he can be as good a quarterback as we ever had. We got a lot of talent on our team and we’ll see what happens.
GSPN: As far as the Midshipmen from Guam, do you ever bump into them or reach out to the Guam boys who are out there?
Coach Ken: When I do, I always tell them, ‘my wife is from Guam’ so it’s always kind of cool because we’ll start talking about things. I’ll ask them what school they went to. They’d tell me they went to GW and I’d tell them that I’ve run on the track there. So it’s kind of cool. But also, there’s a lot of my football players who have served here and have been stationed here. From the Naval Academy, there’s definitely a lot of ties to Guam.
GSPN: Would you ever get a chance to do a football clinic here?
Coach Ken: I’d love to. Maybe some time soon. I did one before back in the 90’s.
GSPN: You’ve been a Division I head coach for a fairly long time (since 2007). How have you been able to sustain that?
Coach Ken: I feel fortunate there at the Academy. I’ve been there for 16 years (including positions as an assistant coach). Coaching is not the most stable profession in the world. I’ve just been fortunate and I have great coaches that I work with. Hopefully, I can be there until I retire.
GSPN: Speaking of stability, Navy is not one to win the national championship. Why do you feel you’ve been able to sustain that stability despite the record not being the most important part of the job?
Coach Ken: Like you said, the most important part of the Academy is producing officers for our country, but it’s still a Division I sport and the AD and the alumni still want you to win. So our main job is to beat Army and Air Force. If we can do that, we keep the alumni happy. They don’t expect us to go 13-0, but if we can beat our two rivals we can keep them happy. Fortunately, we’ve been able to do that. We’ve beaten Army 11 straight times, we beat Air Force eight out of 10 times so hopefully we can keep that going.
NOTES: Niumatolo’s brother-in-law James Cruz is a basketball veteran who played along side Joey Gogue and the Toto Raiders in the old All-District League and the Toto/Miller Blazers of the old Guam Basketball League…cousin-in-law Ed Cruz is the president of the Drag Racing Association of Guam.
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