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Kragthorpe: Navy coach is right guy, but wrong fit for BYU football job

Published December 5, 2015 11:11 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In so many ways, Navy's Ken Niumatalolo would be the ideal replacement for Bronco Mendenhall as BYU's football coach.

The deal breaker? His offense, which makes the right guy the wrong match — as much from his side as BYU's.

Niumatalolo's triple-option scheme is one of the complications BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe is facing in his first major staffing selection in 11 years, since the promotions of former assistants Mendenhall in football and Dave Rose in basketball.



Holmoe's description of "a national search" for his next coach is technically accurate. His phone calls of inquiry will go from coast to coast. Whether written or not, every athletic director keeps a list of possible coaches to fill vacancies. Holmoe's list is always shorter, because of the requirements for high-profile positions at the church-owned school.

My realistic, reasonable, recruitable choice among the names on that list is Oregon State defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, a former BYU fullback and longtime Utah assistant. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham or Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell? Sure, but why would they move? Weber State's Jay Hill? Promising, but not ready for this level. Robert Anae? I like this version of him, in his second stint as BYU's offensive coordinator, but I wonder about him dealing with boosters and the media and everything that goes with the job.

In any case, I'll spend the rest of this column lamenting Niumatalolo as the one who will get away. None of those other coaches would be a better fit. I've never watched "Meet the Mormons," but I've met this Mormon, and our brief interaction in advance of his first game as Navy's head coach (a 2007 Poinsettia Bowl loss to Utah) stuck with me.

Niumatalolo makes a good impression in a humble way, kind of like Sitake. Eight years as Navy's head coach, working with recruiting restrictions that resemble BYU's limitations, have prepared him well for a job like this one.

Niumatalolo would blend into BYU very well, except for the little detail of the most important aspect of the game. The Cougars have to throw the football. That's what they do. Niumatalolo is unlikely to be willing to radically change his offensive approach, and why would he? It works for him.

I'm not so much of traditionalist that I couldn't endorse an option attack in Provo. Fans eventually would embrace it, once they discover that having players run into the end zone is a good thing, regardless of how they got there or how the ball landed into their hands.

Niumatalolo's mentor, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, has proven that the scheme works at the Power 5 level in the Atlantic Coast Conference. In its own way, the option is as fascinating to watch as a passing offense, with a mechanism that's both simple and complex.

But bringing the option to Provo would be too messy right now. I'm not suggesting BYU is forever obligated to throw the football because of LaVell Edwards' legacy, or that quarterback Tanner Mangum is bigger than the program. Yet it would not be fair to bring in an entirely different scheme and cast aside the current QBs at this stage.

Maybe there's a potential compromise, with Niumatalolo phasing in the option as Mangum plays out his college career over the next two or three seasons. But that's an imperfect solution. Niumatalolo deserves to implement the scheme he knows, giving himself the best chance to succeed, and I doubt he would come on any other terms.

So to me, that leaves BYU with Sitake, whose Oregon State defense failed to deliver a Pac-12 victory this year. That's OK. Holmoe promoted Mendenhall and Rose after losing seasons, and they've worked out quite well.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

 

 

 

 

 

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