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Arizona’s offense would be ‘prolific’ with Ken Niumatalolo, says one coach

Would Niumatalolo be able to adapt at Arizona? Baylor coach Matt Rhule thinks so

NCAA Football: Navy at Temple Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest concern Arizona Wildcats fans have with Ken Niumatalolo becoming the program’s new head coach is his offensive philosophy.

While Niumatalolo, who is still reportedly mulling Arizona’s offer, has won nearly 64 percent of his games as the head coach at Navy, he runs an offensive system that, aside from Georgia Tech, does not exist among Power Five teams.

That is, the triple-option.

But folks that know Niumatalolo well or have followed his career insist he would alter his offense to better suit the Wildcats’ personnel and the Pac-12 conference.

Baylor coach Matt Rhule, who competed against Niumatalolo at Temple before heading to the Big 12, is one of those people.

“He’s an adaptive coach,” Rhule told Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports. “He can make (Khalil) Tate or any QB a force. He has all the same principles of Chip Kelly and the other spread offensive minds. They’ll be prolific.”

Rhule’s claim does have some merit to it.

Navy has run the shotgun more often in recent seasons, incorporating the zone-read into its traditional triple-option attack. In fact, in one game this year — against Air Force — it almost went exclusively to the gun, and averaged 8.3 yards per carry.

Sure, the Midshipmen only passed the ball 11 times that game, but it does show Niumatalolo can adjust his schemes as he sees fit.

It’s just that most of the time, well, he doesn’t need to. Niumatalolo has had a winning season at Navy in nine of the 10 seasons he's been head coach.

“Every offseason we dabble with some gun stuff, but quite frankly we didn’t need it. We were pretty good on offense under center,” Niumatalolo said after the Air Force win (via the Capital Gazette).

“It’s hard to get away from your bread-and-butter when you’re so good at running the option.”

Still, one could argue that hiring Niumatalolo to run something other than his bread-and-butter would be risky. To use a basketball comparison, it would be like hiring Sean Miller to run a 2-3 zone.

Niumatalolo is a proven winner, but he is a proven winner using a system that does not fly in Power Five football.

And what if he can’t successfully adapt and Arizona’s offense flounders? Then what? Are we doing this coaching search thing again in a few years?

While there is plenty of debate about how Niumatalolo’s offense would transition to UA, there is one sure-thing he would bring to the table — tremendous character.

“If I could have my son play for anyone other than me,” Rhule tweeted, “it would be Ken Niumatalolo.”

Niumatalolo’s reputation as a high-character guy is nothing to overlook since Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke and President Robert C. Robbins cited the “climate” of the UA program as a reason for firing Rich Rodriguez, who was let go amid sexual harassment allegations.