Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo felt he needed to be honest with his players about his interest in the head coaching job at Brigham Young, even if it could have been a distraction in preparations for the Midshipmen's huge rivalry game against Army.
The decision by Niumatalolo, who will be interviewed Monday by BYU officials, was criticized by athletic director Chet Gladchuk and others connected with Navy. But the players, regardless of their feelings, made sure it wasn't a hindrance Saturday in their 21-17 victory over the Black Knights at Lincoln Financial Field.
"We didn't let it affect us," said free safety Lorentez Barbour, who had an interception in the fourth quarter. "Regardless of what Coach's decision is going to be, he loves us, and we love him. We play for our teammates, we play for each other. The coaches put us in the right positions, but between those white lines, it's just us."
Niumatalolo, a longtime Navy assistant who is 67-37 in eight years as head coach, said he didn't want to deceive anyone.
"I didn't want to be one of those guys who says, 'Read my lips, I'm not going anywhere,' and the next thing you know they're on a plane going somewhere," he said. "Or they text their team. I've known coaches that take another job and don't even tell their other coaches. How do you do that?
"We're a family. You wouldn't do that to your family."
Niumatalolo is a Mormon who went on a two-year mission following his freshman year at Hawaii. His son, Va'a, is a sophomore linebacker at BYU. His family appeared last summer in a documentary, Meet the Mormons.
BYU is seeking a replacement for Bronco Mendenhall, who resigned to take the head coach's job at Virginia. One of the university's requirements is that a candidate must be a member in good standing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Gladchuk told the Associated Press that Niumatalolo's news distracted from "the biggest game of the year."
"We're certainly a football program that's steeped in team and not about 'me,' " he said. "All of a sudden it's become about that."
Niumatalolo said his faith is a key reason why he's exploring the opportunity, and his voice broke as he explained.
"It has nothing to do with Chet Gladchuk or the Naval Academy or the players," he said. "I've come to work 18 years. I love my job. I love to come to work. It's been my life. My kids have grown up here. I've given everything to this program."