Navy Football Coach Sione Po’uha Anchored to Faith, Family

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News associate editor

  • 4 April 2018

Lifelong Church member Sione Po‘uha played several seasons for the NFL’s New York Jets.  Photo courtesy of Bill Kostroun, AP.

Article Highlights

  • Renowned football player and coach Sione Po‘uha stays anchored to God and family by remembering his eternal identity.

“I am a son of God. I am a father. I am a husband. I am a priesthood holder. Playing football or coaching football or being a bishop—those are things I do [or have done]. But I know who I am.” —Sione Po‘uha

Sione Po‘uha could aptly be called the “Mormon Slash.”

For a man still in his 30s, he’s shown unusual versatility playing, at various times, multiple “positions”: returned missionary/college football star/NFL lineman/bishop/seminary teacher/D1 college football coach.

But as pro athletes and bishops know, slash-sandwiched titles typically don’t last forever.

“There’s a difference between what I do and what I am,” said Po‘uha in a phone call from his new residence in Annapolis, Maryland. “I am a son of God. I am a father. I am a husband. I am a priesthood holder.

“Playing football or coaching football or being a bishop—those are things I do [or have done]. But I know who I am.”

Lifelong Latter-day Saint Sione Po‘uha, a retired NFL defensive lineman, was recently hired as the defensive tackles coach at the United States Naval Academy. Photo by Phil Hoffmann.

Knowing his identity—“who I am”—anchors Po‘uha in a life defined by movement and change. The son of Tongan immigrants and a Salt Lake City native, young Sione learned early to work hard and live with faith.

“My parents knew if they lived right and kept their covenants, they would be OK. … Now that’s what [I] and my wife [Keiti] try to teach our children.”

Po‘uha traces the Lord’s hand at each “slash” moment in his life. He admits to being surprised when he was called to missionary service in Pennsylvania instead of a foreign assignment. But when he considers the people he met, taught, and loved, it’s clear that’s where he was needed.

Good fortune shadowed his football career.

“I’m a lucky guy,” he said, listing off the renowned coaches he’s worked with as a player and a coach—Ron McBride, Urban Meyer, Kyle Whittingham, and Gary Andersen at the University of Utah, and now, at Navy, Ken Niumatalolo.

Po‘uha developed into a feared defensive lineman at Utah, vaulting him into an eight-year NFL career. After retiring, he returned to the Beehive State, taught seminary and institute, presided as bishop over the Bountiful 6th Ward (Tongan), and began his coaching career at his alma mater.

Po‘uha’s roles were regularly changing—but his identity (husband, father, son) remained. “My wife and my children played critical roles in [each] experience. We did it together.”

Niumatalolo, a fellow coach known widely for appearing in the Church-produced film Meet the Mormons, recently offered Po‘uha a spot on his Navy coaching staff.

“He brings a wealth of defensive line knowledge from his career as a defensive lineman in the National Football League, and he has played and worked for some of the best defensive minds in football,” said Niumatalolo on the day Po‘uha’s hiring was announced.

Prior to leaving for Annapolis, the Po‘uhas “gathered our family together and said, ‘We want this experience to be for everyone.’” The family is settling into new schools and a new ward, adjusting to life outside of Utah and back in the mission field.

A few days before commencing spring practice with the Midshipmen, Po‘uha pulled out his Book of Mormon and began reading the third verse of Enos: “I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.”

Perhaps Navy’s new defensive tackles coach started his morning thinking about pass rushes and beating Army, but the scripture pulled him back to his true identity.

“I began wondering, ‘What do my kids often hear me talking about?’ Is it football? Is it that I’m tired?”

At that moment he returned, in Enos-like fashion, from his slash to his anchor—feeling “a desire for the welfare” for his family and all others in his ever-widening sphere.

“I know if we keep our covenants and do our best to be a light, the Lord will use us in the best way possible.”

Defensive assistant Sione Po‘uha led University of Utah football players in post-practice seminary teachings in Salt Lake City in 2015. Photo by Chelsey Allder, Deseret News.