The option has been associated with Georgia Tech football for the last 11 years. With Paul Johnson retiring, it would make sense to bring in someone who runs a similar offense. The personnel is already in place. And with Lucas Johnson coming back from injury, in addition to the promise of James Graham, Tech could finally have a viable passing option (pun fully intended) with the option offense.
At the FBS level, there are two option head coaches who are former Paul Johnson disciples: Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo and Army coach Jeff Monken.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo
Niumatalolo first met Johnson when he was the quarterback for Johnson’s team at Hawaii. Following his graduation, Niumatalolo took a position as a graduate assistant and then full-time assistant by 1992. In 1995, Johnson left to become the offensive coordinator at Navy, and Niumatalolo joined him to coach running backs for his first couple years before being named the offensive coordinator in 1997 when Johnson left to be the head coach at Georgia Southern. Niumatalolo briefly left Navy to coach at UNLV for a couple years before returning to Navy as the assistant head coach under new head coach Paul Johnson in 2002. The two served in their respective positions until the end of the 2007 season when Johnson was hired at Georgia Tech. Niumatalolo got the promotion at Navy and has been the head coach ever since.
In his time as a head coach at Navy, Nimuatalolo has continued the successful run that Johnson started. He’s led his teams to a cumulative 87-57 record with five bowl wins in 10 appearances. His team reached a high in 2015, when the Midshipmen finished with an 11-2 record and a victory in the Military Bowl. Navy finished the season ranked No. 18.
Since 2015, the Midshipmen have been trending down, though, with worse records each year, leading up to their 3-9 record leading into the annual Army-Navy game. That could very well be part of the reason that Niumatalolo has not been mentioned in any of the rumors regarding this open position. This doesn’t mean that he won’t be interviewed or even considered, just that he has not been mentioned at this point.
This would not be the first head coaching job outside of Navy that he has been considered for. After Bronco Mendenhall was hired at Virginia, Niumatalolo, who is also a member of the LDS faith, was a serious candidate to be the next coach at BYU. In fact, he was offered the job, though with a few stipulations. Rumor has it that the main stipulation was that he would have to employ a different offense than the one he was accustomed to. Niumatalolo ultimately stayed at Navy.
Before this last season, Niumatalolo was reportedly up for another job, this time with Arizona. And again, it is reported that his offense was a big reason he did not get the job. When it was rumored that he was a frontrunner for the job, quarterback Khalil Tate took to Twitter, saying . that “I didn’t come to Arizona to run the triple-option.” Arizona ultimately hired former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.
During a radio show earlier this season, Johnson mentioned that wasn’t the entire story, instead saying that Niumatalolo turned down the Arizona job after being offered it to stay at Navy.
Army coach Jeff Monken
Monken has a slightly different story from Niumatalolo, but with a similar start as a graduate assistant under Johnson at Hawaii. From there, Monken bounced around to a few different positions, including head coach at Morton High School for a year, before returning as a coach for Johnson at Georgia Southern, where he coached running backs. Monken followed Johnson from Southern to Navy to Georgia Tech, coaching running backs the whole time and adding in special teams.
Following the 2009 season at Georgia Tech, Monken was hired as the head coach at Georgia Southern, replacing former head coach Chris Hatcher. The idea was to bring the option back to Statesboro, as Hatcher ran the air raid. Monken found instant success, leading the Eagles to three straight 10-win seasons.
Following the 2013 season, Monken was hired as the head coach at Army, replacing Rich Ellerson. Monken did not find that instant success at first, but instead started building this program. After winning six games between his first two seasons, Monken had his Army team ready to play in 2016. Led by Ahmad Bradshaw at quarterback, the Black Knights worked their way to an 8-5 record, featuring Monken’s first win over Navy. Monken followed that up with a 10-win season last year, and he could very well have another 10-win season this year with either a victory over Navy or in the bowl game.
Unlike Niumatalolo, Monken has not been directly tied to any other coaching searches. He seems to be the more popular choice between the two among fans should Tech hire another option coach.
Monken and Niumatalolo are both great coaches. They are also both very happy with where they are are at. Niumatalolo has turned down other coaching opportunities twice, and Monken could very well be building something very special at Army. I feel confident in saying Todd Stansbury will do his due diligence and talk with at least one of the two, but I don’t think either will ultimately get the job.
What are your thoughts on Monken and Niumatalolo?