Mids' coach switch `an easy change'

Niumatalolo supervises first practice

Navy football

December 11, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN REPORTER

Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada looked around him. All of the sturdy Naval Academy buildings were still standing. The Chesapeake Bay was still lapping at the shore near the football field. His teammates were still all present and accounted for.

The only major difference was that former assistant head coach Ken Niumatalolo was calling the shots as head coach now that Paul Johnson has departed for Georgia Tech.

"It's an easy change," said Kaheaku-Enhada, a junior. "Coach had a meeting this morning to remind us where we came from and who we are. We still play for each other."

Sophomore nose guard Nate Frazier said: "Basically, nothing has really changed."

On the field, Niumatalolo said he recognized a lot of positive energy as he directed his first practice as a college head coach and felt his team's excitement about getting back on the field.

"I'm trying to keep everything as normal as possible," said Niumatalolo, who announced that Ivin Jasper, the quarterbacks coach who in his eighth season at Navy, will continue on his staff as offensive coordinator and that Buddy Green, the defensive coordinator, has also agreed to return.

"Ivin knows the triple-option offense," Niumatalolo said. "He not only has coached it, but he played in it [at the University of Hawaii], so he brings a different kind of knowledge. I'm the head coach, and I'm not totally wiping my hands of it, but the offense will be his show."

Niumatalolo, who was Johnson's assistant head coach for six years, spent much of yesterday's practice watching the defense work. He said afterward that for a coach "who has spent most of his career on the offensive side of the ball," it was invigorating to see the defensive coaches run their practice.

Green's defense has been scrutinized, as it has bent but not crumbled. While the offense has felt the need to score on nearly every possession, the defense has made enough back-against-the-wall plays to help produce an 8-4 record.

The Mids have come through triple overtime for a victory over Notre Dame for the first time in 44 years. They survived an NCAA record-setting 74-62 shootout at North Texas. They won an unprecedented sixth straight game over Army. And they captured the Commander in Chief's Trophy, which goes to the winner of the round-robin series among the three military academies, for a fifth straight time.

Johnson's decision to leave - which came quickly and with the Poinsettia Bowl against Utah still to be played Dec. 20 in San Diego - caught some of his players by surprise, but by yesterday afternoon, they were taking it in stride.

"Coach Johnson was here when I was recruited, and you expected him to be here for four years," freshman cornerback Kevin Edwards said. "There's some disappointment, but Coach Niumatalolo recruited me, and he'll bring the same things Coach Johnson did to the job. Basically, they both want to win."

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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