By Bill Wagner
Dec 13, 2022 at 7:02 pm
Athletic director Chet Gladchuk made it clear Monday that Navy football will continue to employ an option offense, but provided no other details about what he’s looking for in the next coach.
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Gladchuk said the coach does not need to be an option guru provided that person was willing to hire an offensive coordinator and staff that was well-versed with the attack.
Previous experience coaching at a service academy was not a requirement with Gladchuk saying that would be a “bonus.” In fact, the longtime athletic director indicated he preferred a coach that had spent time at a civilian school.
A list of characteristics Gladchuk is seeking could not be dialed down further. It was not addressed if candidates need previous head coaching experience or had to have spent time at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Gladchuk promoted Ken Niumatalolo to the top job even though he had never been a head coach at any level. In hiring varsity coaches for other sports at the Naval Academy, Gladchuk has routinely found individuals who enjoyed tremendous success at the Division II or III levels.
Navy is an attractive job on a lot of levels, not the least of which is its long and storied history. The Midshipmen play in the American Athletic Conference, which ranks just below the Power Five in terms of prestige and television revenue.
Navy is guaranteed to play on national television twice per season thanks to Army and Notre Dame games and has the opportunity to do more often with certain conference contests.
Of course, these are challenging times for the service academies, which cannot take advantage of the transfer portal or Name, Image and Likeness deals.
Fans will be surprised by the caliber of coaches whose representatives reach out to Navy. Two notable possibilities are Bill O’Brien and Bronco Mendenhall.
O’Brien was head coach at Penn State for one season before leaving to take the same position with the Houston Texans of the NFL. He is currently Alabama’s offensive coordinator and is believed to have more than a passing interest in Navy.
Mendenhall coached BYU from 2005 through 2015 before leaving for Virginia in 2016. He resigned following the 2021 season and did not coach anywhere this past season. Bennett Conlin of Hero Sports mentioned Mendenhall as a potential candidate for the Navy job.
While stranger things have happened, I do not see Navy hiring O’Brien or Mendenhall. Here is a list of coaches The Capital considers the most likely candidates.
The internal prospect
Gladchuk promoted Brian Newberry to interim coach and that immediately makes him a top possibility to earn the job full-time.
Newberry has been widely praised for his performance as defensive coordinator since being hired in 2019. The Midshipmen made a dramatic improvement in every defensive category during his first season directing the unit, moving from the bottom of the Football Championship Subdivision to the upper third. Navy finished this season ranked sixth nationally in rushing defense, allowing 88.9 yards per game on the ground.
Gladchuk confirmed Newberry was a viable candidate to succeed Niumatalolo.
“I like Brian, I like his style,” said Gladchuk, describing Newberry as “highly organized” and noted that all the defensive assistants and players respected him.
Newberry came to Navy after serving as defensive coordinator at Kennesaw State from 2015 to 2018. He has held the same title at Northern Michigan, University of the South as well as Washington & Lee.
Up until Navy, Newberry had coached at either the FCS , Division II or III levels. Contacted by The Capital on Monday, Newberry confirmed his desire to become Navy head coach, saying it would be “an honor and a privilege.”
The Paul Johnson disciple
Paul Johnson was responsible for resurrecting the Navy football program as Navy head coach from 2002 to 2007, producing five straight winning seasons and capturing fiveconsecutive Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy championships. .
Naturally, any member of the Navy offensive staff during Johnson’s tenure would seem an obvious candidate to succeed Niumatalolo. There is really only one person left that makes sense and many consider that individual the top candidate other than Newberry.
Brian Bohannon, who was Navy’s wide receivers coach under Johnson, just completed his eighth season as head coach at Kennesaw State, where he has compiled a 68-24 overall record and 30-12 conference mark.
Bohannon built Kennesaw State from the ground up, transforming a start-up program into an FCS powerhouse. He is the only head coach in the history of the school, which began playing varsity football in 2015.
Bohannon led Kennesaw State to a pair of Big South Conference championships and four straight FCS playoff appearances, reaching the semifinals In 2017 and 2018.
Bohannon was runner-up for the Eddie Robinson Award as the nation’s top FCS coach in 2018 and has been a finalist three other times. He also served as an assistant under Johnson at Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech.
If Navy is looking for an option coach from the FBS level, it will have to hire someone who spent time at either Army or Air Force. Former athletic director Jack Lengyel went that route when he brought in Charlie Weatherbie, who was an Air Force assistant from 1984 to 1989.
There are some college football insiders who think Navy might make a run at Mike Thiessen, who just completed his ninth season as Air Force offensive coordinator.
Thiessen, a former Air Force quarterback who has spent a total of 16 seasons as an assistant at his alma mater, has directed a unit that has ranked top four nationally in rushing offense for eight straight seasons.
Gladchuk said during Monday’s media availability that it’s important for Navy to develop an offense that can move the ball even when the option is being stopped. In other words, the Midshipmen need to incorporate more passing concepts.
Air Force has ranked top three nationally in passing yards per completion every season under Thiessen. The Falcons have consistently fielded a more diverse offense than either Army or Navy, utilizing a myriad of formations and motions to confuse defenses and incorporating a wide range of plays.
The wild card
Looming out there like an elephant in the room is the legendary Paul Johnson, future College Football Hall of Famer.
Johnson was a winner at every stop of his career — as offensive coordinator at Georgia Southern, Hawaii and Navy and as head coach at Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech.
Johnson has compiled a career record of 189-100 with winning records in 17 of 22 seasons. He has suffered just four losing seasons and three came at Georgia Tech.
Georgia Tech was Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division champions four times and played in three New Year’s Six bowls under Johnson, who retired as the third-winningest coach in program history.
Johnson, who is 65 years old and has been out of coaching since 2018, has told The Capital he has not ruled out a return to the sidelines.
Johnson turned around Navy football once before and no one would bet against him being able to do it again. It’s all a matter of whether he would be willing to take on the responsibility a second time and whether Gladchuk would consider bringing him out of retirement.