Shibata is one of a handful of Hawaiian-raised players on the Navy roster who have a better understanding about Niumatalolo's trips home. Though he remained in Annapolis this summer, Shibata went back to Oahu the previous three years.
"You go home, spend time with the family and think about things you have to do to get ready for the upcoming season," said Shibata, who was raised on the island's south shore outside Honolulu but has relatives who live in the next town over from where Niumatalolo grew up. "I know Coach says he does the same thing. He tries to find ways to get better and he comes back with new tactics to get us ready for the season."
Shibata said knowing where his coach grew up gives him an appreciation for how far Niumatalolo has come.
"It definitely makes you think that he was not some rich kid growing up with big houses and nice cars. He now lives in a big house and drives a nice car, but where he's from is very rural, a small town where everyone knows each other. It just shows you how hard he's worked to get where he is now," Shibata said. "It's pretty humbling to know that he has that background. He's kept the same work ethic his entire life. It's apparent."
When asked about the town where he grew up, Niumatalolo goes to a computer in a conference room at Ricketts Hall to show pictures he has downloaded. There are shots of the white sandy beach, the lush foliage and sunsets that seem to jump off the screen. As picturesque a setting as his team's practice location is — looking out onto the Chesapeake Bay — it's not the paradise Niumatalolo leaves behind.
"People hear I'm going to Hawaii and ask me, 'What do you guys do, go on a dinner cruise or go hiking?' I don't do anything, I stay in with my parents," Niumatalolo said. "It's a great place for me to reflect and rewind. It's a reminder for me of where I started from. That makes me feel very fortunate to be coaching at the Naval Academy, knowing where I came from."
Niumatalolo isn't thinking about how long he will continue to coach at Navy, where he has more wins in his first four years (32, with 21 defeats) than any of his predecessors. Though the speculation about Niumatalolo's commitment to staying in Annapolis quieted after he signed a long-term extension in 2009, Niumatalolo knows he will be scrutinized even more after his first losing season.
There has been chatter, particularly after Niumatalolo's first couple of seasons at Navy, that he would at some point return to Hawaii and coach his alma mater. Niumatalolo said he once thought about it, too — before he succeeded Johnson. The two met when Johnson was the offensive coordinator at Hawaii, where Niumatalolo was a backup quarterback and later a graduate assistant coach.
"Before I got this job, when I was an assistant, I would have loved that opportunity," said Niumatalolo, who has spent 14 of his 23 years in coaching at Navy. "But I realize having been in this job for nearly five years, I have a great job. I coach great kids, I live in a great town. I couldn't ask for anything else. The administration has been very good to me and my family. I have no complaints."
Barbara Niumatalolo has one.
She wishes her husband could sleep through the night just once.
But for now, and for the foreseeable future, she also knows that is probably not going to happen.
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