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Carson: Niumatalolo should get offers

| Monday, October 10, 2016

Ask any number of college football fans, insiders or analysts who the biggest coaching target this offseason will be and, more than likely, they’ll agree on a consensus pick: Houston head coach Tom Herman.

What Herman has done at Houston in two seasons is impressive — he’s taken his team to the center of both Big 12 expansion chat and the national conversation as a whole — and when the nation’s top coach-less programs go looking for a new man this winter, there’s little doubt Herman will have the pick of the openings.

While other trendy picks will fall into place for jobs further down the pecking order — Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck is a name that comes to mind — by and large, this winter will feature the Herman sweepstakes. Herman is the quintessential guy to land a big-time job — hyper-successful at the now-“Group of Five” level, showing all the tendencies of a guy who’ll have success at the highest level.

And I won’t argue that Herman isn’t going to be successful at LSU, Texas, USC or any of the other potential spots he might land at this offseason if he chooses to leave Houston.

But what about the guy that beat his Cougars on Saturday?

I’ll be honest: Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo is not your typical major college football coaching candidate. And if a big-time program was to hire America’s best triple-option mind (sorry Paul Johnson), it’d mean a long, tough, hard transition period.

The payoff at the end of it, though? It could be massive.

As someone who loves himself a good triple option, I love the idea of seeing Niumatalolo’s offense running with four- and five-star talent, rather than the limited talent he gets to work with at a service academy.

But I’ll admit something else: None of college football’s blue bloods are going to go after Niumatalolo.

For any top-tier program parting ways with its coach between now and January, it’s doing so because recent results haven’t been good enough; because there’s a “win now” mentality that isn’t being fulfilled. Niumatalolo does nothing to fix that in the short-term — moving from a more conventional offense to a triple option will take time (that’s code for a lot of losses).

So with that in mind, perhaps I should address this thought to a different type of schools.

Yes, I’m looking at you, Purdue, who despite a win this week should plan to part ways with Darrell Hazell. Maybe I’m looking at you, Kansas, who is 1-16 under David Beaty. Possibly the fine folks at Boston College could be interested in my advice? Steve Addazio isn’t cutting it.

If we’re talking about the programs that are perennially terrible — the ones who start each season with a slim chance of reaching a bowl game in the first place — what exactly is there to lose? When Purdue finally dumps Hazell, if it sticks to trend, it will hire a mid-major coach that’s had some success. The Boilermakers won’t get Fleck, who’ll have better options, but let’s say (for the sake of the argument) they get Scott Satterfield, who’s in charge at Appalachian State.

After Satterfield arrives, one of two things happens: Either Purdue continues down the same path, relegated to the bottom tier of college football, or Satterfield has a great year, leads the Boilers to a 9-3 record before leaving for a better job. One like Nebraska, Missouri or Kansas State, let’s say.

Purdue, then, regardless of outcome, goes back out and tries again. Three or four years later, it happens once more.

You get the picture.

But what if Purdue tried something different? Playing a triple-option offense forces opponents to design a defensive scheme specifically for your team. One week doing something entirely different than normal, simply because they have to stop you.

We’ve seen Niumatalolo’s Navy teams beat Notre Dame and put a scare into Ohio State. In his eight seasons at the helm, the Midshipmen have won fewer than eight games once; last year, they won their division in their first year in the American.

He is, simply put, one of college football’s best coaches. Saturday’s upset over No. 6 Houston proves that.

And if Niumatalolo has success at your program, for the same reasons big-time programs won’t touch him in the first place, he’s not going to leave after a couple seasons on the job.

Take a gamble. Try something different. For some Power Five programs, it can’t possibly turn out worse than what you’re at right now.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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