In our prior two posts here and here, we discussed why the AAC has the most interesting coaches in college football. There's little doubt that those in the East Division have intriguing stories. The West is also home to exciting coaches. We start here with:
Ken Niumatalolo (Navy)
Justin Mears: You could certainly make an argument for Coach Ken as the most interesting coach in the AAC. For starters, there is this:
That should be reason enough to convince you that Coach Ken is the most interesting coach in the AAC. (I definitely think a ride with the Blue Angels is better than a tandem jump with the Army Golden Knights parachute team, but I could be slightly biased)
If that wasn't enough to convince some of you, here are a few other tidbits that add to the intrigue that is Coach Niumatalolo:
- Coach Niumatalolo is now the all-time winningest coach in Navy Football history.
- Coach Niumatalolo is the second Polynesian head coach in FBS history.
- Coach Niumatalolo is the first Samoan collegiate head coach at any level.
- Coach Niumatalolo was inducted into the initial class of the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame in 2014.
- Coach Niumatalolo was featured in the documentary Meet the Mormons which was released in theaters in October, 2014.
Coach Ken is unique. Coach Ken is certainly interesting. Coach Ken wins.
What more can I say?
Justin Fuente (Memphis)
Chris James: When speaking of interesting coaches in the AAC it seems as if Justin Fuente is in a class of his own. It's apparent in how he has changed the perception of the Tigers. Mind you, the Tiger program was in shambles when Fuente took the helm. In just a few short years you can tell that Fuente has turned a Pinto in to what appears to be a muscle car. A team that was once the laughing stock of not only its league, but college football itself, has turned a major corner. One distant observer may look at a 10-3 record and think it's a fluke. However, if you watch "product on the field" you can see Fuente's impact from a mile away. The AAC has fine coaches but none have the draw of Fuente. He doesn't need prior controversy (looking at you, O'Leary) or prior big time experience (hello Tuberville). The thing that makes Fuente so interesting is that he couldn't care less if he is interesting or not. He is almost like "The Most Interesting Man in the World." Fuente lays back and just becomes awesome.
Fuente's first couple seasons were "successful failures." The goal is always a bowl birth but the successes were product on the field and not records. It was apparent that the product on the field, Larry Porter's players, were a better product behind Fuentes. In Fuente's first two seasons he didn't even win 9 games total, but you could tell that his kids would run through walls for him. The corner was being turned for something special, but nobody expected 2014 to be the year. After only two seasons and only 7 wins under his belt, Fuente would lead his team to a 10-3 finish. A star was realized.
Curtis Johnson (Tulane):
Chas Short: Curtis Johnson is notable for his profoundly deep connections to the New Orleans community where he coaches. Johnson is a New Orleans native, grew up in nearby St. Rose, Louisiana, and graduated from St. Charles High School. And he came to the Green Wave after six seasons with the New Orleans Saints coaching wide receivers.
Recruiting in the New Orleans area has also been a priority for Johnson. At his introductory press conference back in 2011, Johnson proclaimed a "State of Tulane":
Louisiana recruits, we are coming to get you. This doesn't mean that we are going to stop searching all over the country, but look out, because you are on our radar already. This is now the state of Tulane.
This of course was meant to evoke memories of the Canes' "State of Miami" recruiting (Johnson coached wide receivers at UM from 1996-2005). And true to his pledge, Johnson's recruiting classes have indeed been filled with players from Louisiana in general and New Orleans in particular. Pre-Tulane, Johnson (who was known for his excellent recruiting) also had success recruiting the New Orleans area, notably NFL Hall of Famer and fellow New Orleans native Marshall Faulk, whom Johnson recruited to San Diego State.