Mark Humphrey, AP
Chris Samuels,
Chris Samuels,

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, who traveled to Utah for a tour of BYU’s campus and meetings with school and LDS Church officials Monday to explore the Cougars head coaching vacancy, has decided to remain with the Midshipmen.

Niumatalolo will now start preparing his No. 21 Navy team (10-2) for the Military Bowl on Dec. 28 against Pittsburgh.

Niumatalolo talked about the process of exploring the BYU coaching vacancy with the Washington Post Wednesday night.

“It was hard going back and forth,” he said. “I just think ultimately this is where I’m supposed to be. Nothing against BYU. They have a great program. They’re really wonderful people, but there are wonderful people at the Naval Academy.”

Meanwhile, BYU’s coaching search continues.

Oregon State defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake remains a strong candidate. BYU officials also met with Sitake Monday night.

The former Cougar fullback, who played for legendary coach LaVell Edwards, has a lot of support from BYU fans, boosters and other former players.

Sitake spent a decade at Utah as an assistant coach, including six years as the defensive coordinator. He left the Utes a year ago to join Gary Andersen's staff at Oregon State.

The Oregonian asked Andersen Wednesday afternoon about Sitake’s status with OSU’s program, prior to the news that Niumatalolo is staying at Navy.

“We broke for Christmas break about two hours ago, and at that point, the staff was all completely together and in a good spot,” Andersen said. “I don’t know where it’s going to be with Kalani. I really don’t. I’m going to support him as he moves through the process. BYU doesn’t have a coach yet and Kalani is somebody that BYU should definitely be looking at, in my opinion. But my opinion doesn’t matter for BYU, so we’ll see where it goes. And if that’s something that Kalani wants, then I will definitely support him. Do I believe he’s ready and can handle that? If that’s what he wants to do, absolutely yes. So we will see. On my end, there’s no reason for me to really have any belief that Kalani’s deep into the process at BYU or the No. 1 guy or hey, it’s gonna take place very quickly. He was at our Christmas Party (Tuesday) night and we’ll see. But would he be interested if they came and said hey, let’s do this thing and you’re the head coach at BYU, I’m sure he would listen. Why wouldn’t he? You’d have to.”

Earlier in the day, Niumatalolo was named a finalist for national coach of the year along with Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, Florida’s Jim McElwain, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Stanford’s David Shaw.

Niumatalolo let his team know before the Army-Navy game last week that he was going to interview at BYU.

“I agonized, ‘Do I tell the team before the biggest game of the year?'” Niumatalolo said. “But I didn’t want to go [to Utah], and something comes out, and my players see that. I had no idea when I got there the media would be waiting for me at the airport. If that would have happened, and I decided like I did now that I’m not going, and I hadn’t told my players, my players wouldn’t look at me the same way right now. I would lose some trust.”

“We’re all relieved,” Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk told the Washington Post. “It was a stressful exercise, but something he felt was important that he explore, and everyone respects that and appreciates his position on it. In the final analysis, we were all on edge because we know how important he is to the program and how inspirational he’s been to Navy football. To keep things intact has been the formula that’s led us to the success that we’ve had over the last decade and change.”