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Niumatalolo: SJSU’s next head coach checks all the boxes

photo by: Tom Gilligan

Less than a week after San Jose State lost Brent Brennan to the next-level pressures of Power 5 football, Spartan AD Jeff Konya’s own quick decision process to secure its own next-level leader is impressive.

How? Why?

The new Spartan head coach Kenneth Va’a Niumatalolo.

15-years as Navy’s head coach. 109 wins and the Midshipmen’s winningest coach. The first Samoan collegiate head coach at any level. A lifetime lineage of brotherhood, family and faith with football DNA that includes quarterbacking the Rainbow Warriors in the late 1980s.

On his way to San Jose with a five-year agreement, Niumatalolo’s reputation expects to precede him. With the ability to command a Spartan program right away from respect and proven leadership from day one, Niumatalolo must also be hungry. Or perhaps that’s something also in his DNA.

To take the SJSU job is wrought with challenges.

The obvious is navigating the college football landscape, especially in the Bay Area. It is part reason Navy unceremoniously fired Niumatalolo immediately after losing to Army 20-17 in a double-OT game back in December 2022.

Per a 2022 ESPN report, there was a building chasm of difference with the Navy AD after three lean years and the need to bring Navy back to prominence with new blood. Niumatalolo’s program saw 10 bowl games; winning six and had previously dominated the Army-Navy rivalry.

Niumatalolo felt slighted, but not undeterred. One might see that there’s a chip on the shoulder from someone known to be hyper competitive. Beneficiary: San Jose State.

Off the field, the question is if Niumatalolo can do more with less and get more from new pastures given that a huge part of the CFB landscape is driven by the new business of college football. Niumatalolo as the new spearhead for SJSU has the gamut of NIL, donors, recruiting, marketing, and near-constant public relations to contend with. Though Niamatalolo is known to be vivacious recruiter, especially on the west coast, the question is also larger than Niumatalolo as the new face of Spartan football.

As a coach and leader of color, Niumatalolo should usher in a great level of camaraderie and support. Indicative of the diversity of the area and the university, expect the community, coaches, students and athletes to rally around a refreshing change at the helm.

And a lasting change we should expect

The 58-year-old Niumatalolo has shown a history of longevity and loyalty.

How can 15 years as head coach in one place be topped? Whatever it is, it can happen in less time when things look to align on all levels. Niumatalolo and San Jose State is a perfect match of values and long-term expectations. Konya and the administration have always shown what matters most and it’s not as popular as win at all cost. The wholistic philosophy of academics, diversity and preparation for life’s next level is also part of the overall goal too. Niumatalolo and SJSU have proven that.

More recently, Niumatalolo’s life moves have also shown a perhaps recent propensity for continuous personal growth. Case-in-point is simply the east coast to west coast move itself for he and his family. But more symbolic and yet, of substance, is Niumatalolo’s work with UCLA as an advisor and director of leadership.

From a more recent ESPN report, Niumatalolo’s self-reflection and connections led to the experience with the Bruins. Niumatalolo’s growth mindset is to craft his Spartan program to match and exceed the energy and culture of the times. Beneficiary: the student-athletes, San Jose State and the Mountain West.