February 25, 2024

With its latest move, UCLA might be able to lay claim to having the most qualified position coach in college football.

He’s Ken Niumatalolo, now coaching tight ends for the Bruins after one season as the team’s director of leadership, which came after he became the winningest head coach in Navy’s history.

Niumatalolo, who will turn 59 in May, guided the Midshipmen to a 109-83 record and 11 bowl appearances before his dismissal after the 2022 season. He also coached tight ends for three seasons at UNLV.

“Ken is a tremendous example for our program off the field through his character and experiences at the Naval Academy,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said in a statement. “We are thrilled with the opportunity to add his knowledge and leadership to our tight ends room and coaching staff.”

It’s the second vacancy that Kelly has filled from within his football offices after elevating Ikaika Malloe to defensive coordinator earlier this week after he had previously coached outside linebackers and defensive linemen.

After advising UCLA players and staff in his role as director of leadership last season, Niumatalolo served as the acting tight ends coach during the Bruins’ victory over Boise State in the L.A. Bowl upon the departure of Jeff Faris, who became the head coach at Austin Peay. UCLA tight end Hudson Habermehl caught a touchdown pass to help spark the Bruins’ 35-22 comeback victory.

Niumatalolo has deep ties to the Bruins. His son Ali’i is a graduate assistant and his former director of football operations at Navy, Bryce McDonald, is Kelly’s chief of staff. A year ago, McDonald called his old boss to see whether he wanted to join him in Westwood.

“He said that Chip might have a position for me, would I be interested?” Niumatalolo told The Times a few months ago, recounting the story. “And because I knew Bryce, because I knew Chip, because my son was thinking about being a G.A. here, I was definitely interested.”

Whenever they first cross paths each day, Niumatalolo and McDonald embrace.

“I’m grateful that he and Chip brought me here, so I’m just always appreciative, thank him every day,” Niumatalolo said. “I remember the first day I went to the Rose Bowl, I looked at [McDonald] and said, ‘Thank you for bringing me here.’ And I tell Chip the same thing. I’m grateful. Chip didn’t have to bring me here.”

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