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2008 Navy College Football

COACH AND PROGRAM

During his four years of high school at Stratford Academy and The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla., junior linebacker Clint Sovie had four different head coaches.

"And each time [a new coach came in] it was a regime change," Sovie said.

So one can imagine Sovie's sense of relief when he heard that longtime Navy assistant coach Ken Niumatalolo had been tabbed to replace former head coach Paul Johnson, who left to become Georgia Tech's head coach.

He wasn't alone.

Considering Johnson's success, it was only a matter of time before a major-conference team scooped him up. Georgia Tech made sense, considering Johnson first made a name for himself at Championship Subdivision powerhouse Georgia Southern. When it finally happened, Navy could have chosen to make a splash with an outside hire. But instead it took a chance on a young minority coach who helped build the best rushing offense in college football. Niumatalolo, 42, is the first Samoan head coach in NCAA history. One of college football's oldest teams.

Niumatalolo has served in many capacities with the Midshipmen. He was an assistant head coach and offensive line coach for the last six years, and he was the offensive coordinator from 1997-1998. So he knows the culture, and, more importantly, knows what works, most notably the option offense.

Although Niumatalolo will retain most of Johnson's football ideology, his personality is much different than Johnson's. Johnson had a quick wit and his press conference transcripts often read like a transcript from Late Night with David Letterman. Niumatalolo doesn't have a gift for gab, choosing to answer questions more succinctly and without any discernable humor. Niumatalolo, however, is closer to the players because of his days as a position coach.

"They're both great guys, but coach Niumatalolo might be a little more personable," Sovie said. "You see coach 'N' more than you saw coach Johnson."

Funny or serious, a coach is ultimately judged by wins and losses. It's impossible to say how Niumatalolo will fare long term. But short term, Navy fans should be happy with the results. After finishing 8-5 last year, including a season-ending loss to Utah in the Poinsettia Bowl, the Midshipmen will be better this season, thanks to an improved defense and more mature offense. Senior quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada is entering his third year as the starter and has improved every year. Last season he boosted his passing numbers. This year he'll have to take on more of a leadership role. Although the Midshipmen aren't loaded at receiver, they have talent and depth at running back and should be able to put up big numbers once again. Defensively, they have eight returning starters. That should be enough experience to keep opposing offenses within striking distance, and let their offense do its job.

No matter who the coach is, Navy has high standards. No class wants to be the one that lowered them.

"We want to raise the bar; we don't want to ruin what so many other teams have built," senior quarterback/slot-back Jarod Bryant said. "We're all so close with former players. That serves as motivation."