Two long-time friends on opposite sides of upcoming Army-Navy battle

Ed Benkin
November 28, 2018 - 1:51 pm
The Army-Navy media luncheon was at Lincoln Financial Field on Nov. 28.

Ed Benkin/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — At the end of the 2013 season, Ken Niumatalolo knew he wouldn't be speaking much to one of his close friends.

The Navy head coach worked with Army Head Coach Jeff Monken when they were graduate assistants at Hawaii. Niumatalolo is in his 11th season with the Midshipmen. When Niumatalolo found out five years ago that Monken was taking the Army job, he knew he and his friend would not only be coaching against each other once a year, but also be going head to head the the recruitment battle. 

The two coaches will get a rare opportunity to reunite when time runs out on the Army-Navy game on Dec. 8.

"What he's done has been remarkable," Niumatalolo said at a luncheon on Wednesday. "Jeff's such a great person and comes from a great family. We started off in this profession together. It's kind of weird that we both got jobs where we're arch rivals."

Monken has led a remarkablde turnaround at West Point. The Black Knights will enter the Army-Navy game with a record of 9-2. Army will also be looking for its third win in a row in this series after Navy had rattled off a 14-game winning streak. For Monken, it will once again be bittersweet facing his old friend in the biggest game of the year.

"He's a great coach," Monken said. "If I had a son that was going to play college football, I'd want him to play for Kenny. I know that culture in that locker room. I know who he is as a man. I know who he is as a coach. I know when we go that when we go out there two Saturdays from now, it's going to be an absolute war."

Navy is 3-9, but the old slogan of "throwing out the records" is never overused in this matchup. With both coaches looking for the same players on the recruiting trail, there are striking similarities between the two teams. Monken expected to see much of the same X's and O's from his opponent that he sees at practice every day.

"The two teams are built so very similar," Monken said. "We were in recruiting battles for the same guys all the tme. It's just going to be two teams who want to win desperately slugging it out."

Both teams are famous for running the triple option on offense, but the Black Knights have added some wrinkles to their attack. Niumatalolo sees a different type of Army offense than the traditional triple option that both teams have been known for over the years.

"They know who they are," Niumatalolo said. "I've just been imprrssed by their identity. They're more than an option team. They're more of a power running team with option mixed in. I've just been impressed. They know who they are and they play complementary football to win football games."

Emotions will be running high as always when Army and Navy do battle. When the clock hits zero, two old friends will finally get a chance to embrace before being forced to once again go their separate ways.

"I'm just so proud of Kenny," Monken said. "I've known Kenny a long time. I've known all of his kids since they were born. We're great friends, and it is incredibly difficult to maintain this same friendship we have in this rivalry because we can't talk about anything football related."