By Bill Wagner
Dec 20, 2022 at 5:45 pm
Newly hired Navy football coach Brian Newberry covered a lot of ground during his introductory news conference Tuesday.
Newberry, who was promoted Newberry from defensive coordinator to head coach on Monday, announced a new defensive coordinator, discussed his timeline for putting a staff together, his offensive philosophy and addressed expectations for the program. He also spoke about lessons learned from predecessor Ken Niumatalolo, who was fired the day after Navy lost to Army, 20-17, in double overtime, following a 15-year tenure.
Newberry’s first move as head coach was promoting inside linebackers coach P.J. Volker to defensive coordinator.
Volker came to Navy along with Newberry when the latter was hired away from Kennesaw State in 2019 to serve as defensive coordinator. Volker spent two seasons at Kennesaw State and previously coached at Georgia State and Indiana State.
“P.J. and I have been together for six years now. He’s a guy that I love and respect, has a tremendous amount of football knowledge and is an outstanding coach,” Newberry said. “We see things the same way from a philosophical standpoint and the way we want to do things on defense.”
Newberry has already turned his attention to hiring assistants and is hopeful to have a full staff in place by early next year. Navy has recruits coming to the academy the second weekend of January, around the same time current players return from the holiday break. It’s currently a “dead period” for recruiting when college coaches cannot meet with prospects in-person.
“I’d love to have a staff in place so when the dead period is over so we can hit the ground running and get back on the road,” Newberry said.
Navy coaches were on the road last week meeting with recruits. Newberry said his priority was to hold the incoming class together. Several high school prospects committed to the Midshipmen planned to ink paperwork during the early signing period that begins Wednesday and runs through Friday.
Newberry said the coaching change had not impacted a significant number of commits.
“Obviously, I’ve been on the phone this week with those players and their families, trying to secure those commitments and make them feel good about what’s going on here,” Newberry said. “Obviously, me being named head coach helped ease the concerns of those players and their families.”
Navy’s defensive staff is expected to remain largely intact, but there could be some significant shakeup on the offensive side. Newberry acknowledged that some offensive recruits now want to delay signing with the Midshipmen until February because of the uncertainty, “which I completely understand and respect.”
Newberry’s message to recruits was simple.
“I wanted them to understand that I have those same fundamental values [as Niumatalolo],” he said. “I wanted them to know that the culture piece of things — the way we treat our players and the way we do things — will not change.”
Athletic director Chet Gladchuk made it clear Navy would continue to employ the basic principles of the triple-option offense when he addressed Niumatalolo’s firing on Dec. 12. However, he also felt strongly the Midshipmen needed to incorporate other concepts and become more effective throwing the ball when necessary.
Newberry, who said he’s already spoken with several offensive coaches with option backgrounds who had innovative ideas, said he and Gladchuk are in alignment about what it takes to be successful offensively at Navy.
“We know we have to be able to run the football. We know we need to have an element of triple-option. However, we have to be able to take what people give us,” Newberry said. “We have to possess the football, but if people are going to give us things on the perimeter, we have to have a way to be able to do that.”
Newberry mentioned passing schemes with the quarterback taking a three-step drop, using quick screens to get the ball outside and run-pass option plays.
“There’s a lot of ways to skin a cat. There are a lot of people out there who are really creative with what they’re doing with triple-option principles, whether it be under center or in the gun,” he said. “We have to get the ball on the perimeter in creative ways.”
Gladchuk described last week as a “whirlwind” and said he met with the 2022 senior captains along with a large contingent of players expected to be next season’s leaders to “talk about the state of the program and get their insights.”
Gladchuk said Newberry was endorsed by every single Navy player that he spoke with.
Gladchuk consulted with the search firm TurnkeyZRG and worked directly with managing director Chad Chatlos, who was captain of the 1992 Navy football team. Gladchuk said Chatlos had a “great pulse” on what is happening in the college football coaching profession.
“Chad’s insights were invaluable and he was a conduit to candidates,” said Gladchuk, who noted that he traveled the East Coast to conduct in-person interviews and also spoke to numerous candidates over the phone.
Gladchuk said he was seeking a coach with a track record for success, a reputation for integrity and who was respected by his peers, adding “adaptability is critically important to finding a way to win.”
Gladchuk told potential candidates expectations at Navy are to regularly capture the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, post winning records and earn bowl berths. Newberry called those expectations “reasonable” and “achievable.”
“My goal, first and foremost, is to win the CIC, to get that trophy back here and keep it here. Also, to win our conference and go to a bowl game,” said Newberry, who believes those three primary objectives could be accomplished next season since Navy has 17 of 22 starters returning.
“This is not a rebuild. Our program is not broken. We have a great nucleus of players coming back. My expectations of what we can achieve here are sky-high,” he said.
When asked what he learned from Niumatalolo, Newberry said he admired the way the longtime coach treated players, assistants and support staff.
“I think [Niumatalolo] was one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around. I thought he led our program phenomenally through some tough situations. If I’m half the leader he is, I’ll be happy,” said Newberry, who added that he was thankful for Niumatalolo’s friendship and mentorship and said the longtime coach left a legacy that “will be here forever.”
In 2017, on their way to Lewes, Delaware, to visit family, Newberry and his wife, Kate, spent a night in Annapolis. The couple went for a walk and stopped on the Spa Creek Bridge to look across the water at the Naval Academy when Newberry said, “Wouldn’t that be an awesome place to work?”
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d have the opportunity to be in front of you guys today,” he said. “It is an amazing opportunity, a tremendous honor and privilege.”