Navy football suffered a significant loss this week when longtime assistant coach Ashley Ingram departed the program for a different opportunity.
Ingram is leaving Annapolis to become head coach at Carson-Newman University, a Division II school located in Jefferson City, Tennessee. He spent 16 years on the Navy coaching staff after being hired by former Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo in 2008.
Carson-Newman previously attempted to hire Ingram as head coach in 2019 and he declined. Offered the job a second time this week, the 50-year-old Georgia native could not turn it down.
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities over the years to be a head coach and I could never pull the trigger to leave the Naval Academy. That’s because this place means so much to me and my family,” Ingram said. “I just thought it was time to get out of my comfort zone and chase the dreams that I have. It’s always been my goal to be a head coach and you start to wonder how many more of these opportunities you’re going to get.”
A native of Iron City, Ingram, the son of Seminole County’s Coach Alan and Sue Ingram, is a 1996 graduate of the University of North Alabama (UNA) where he was a four-year letterman on the offensive line and helped his team win Division II national titles in 1993, 1994 and 1995. North Alabama had a 3-0 record against Carson-Newman in the playoffs in that stretch.
Ingram made a major impact on Navy football during his tenure, serving as offensive line coach for all 16 seasons. The Midshipmen ranked first or second nationally in rushing offense six times from 2008 through 2019 and have finished sixth or better in that category in all but two seasons since Ingram joined the staff.
In 2013, Niumatalolo promoted Ingram to running game coordinator, a move made in part to prevent the respected assistant from leaving for a head coaching job. When Brian Newberry replaced Niumatalolo, he elevated Ingram to assistant head coach.
“I’m excited about the next chapter in my career. While I know that I made the right decision, it was a really tough and emotional one,” Ingram said. “Coaching at the Naval Academy has been the greatest professional experience of my life. I have memories of a lifetime and the academy is a place that I will always love dearly.”
Newberry, who was traveling to multiple destinations for recruiting Wednesday, acknowledged Ingram would be difficult to replace. Newberry, who just completed his first season at the helm, said he would perform due diligence to identify a quality replacement.
“I’m excited for Ashley. He’s wanted to be a head coach for a long time. I think it’s a great fit at Carson-Newman and he’s going to do a tremendous job there,” Newberry said. “Just an excellent coach, a really good recruiter and an outstanding person.”
Carson-Newman football was a perennial powerhouse under legendary coach Ken Sparks, who oversaw the program from 1980 until his retirement following the 2016 season. Sparks led the Eagles to five NAIA national championships in the 1980s and three Division II runner-up finishes in the 1990s.
Sparks holds the NCAA record for most wins by a Division II coach and retired with a career record of 338-99-2. Carson-Newman employed a triple-option offense throughout the tenure of Sparks, who died of prostate cancer in 2017.
Carson-Newman, which competes in the South Atlantic Conference, has been through two head coaches since Sparks stepped down. Mike Clowney was recently fired after going 10-20 over the past three seasons.
“It’s a great school with a tremendous football history. They are going to embrace the option as they see that as the path back to national relevance,” Ingram said. “Carson-Newman expects to be successful on the football field. I don’t have any question that we can win here and win big. It was as good an opportunity for myself as I could ever find.”
Ingram is very familiar with the landscape of Division II college football, playing at North Alabama when it was a powerhouse program under Hall of Fame coach Bobby Wallace. Ingram was a starting offensive lineman on three national championship teams.
Ingram was officially announced as Carson-Newman head coach during a 2 p.m. news conference this past Monday.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to build my own program. As a head coach you have a chance to make more of an impact and touch more players’ lives,” Ingram said. “My mindset is not on rebuilding, it’s on getting this thing going as fast as possible.”
He entered the coaching ranks as a graduate assistant, first at North Alabama in 1997, then at Temple University in the Spring. After spending a year at North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Ga., in 1998, he became the offensive line coach at the University of West Alabama in 1999, then at Rhode Island in 2000. He was hired as offensive coordinator at Bucknell in 2006, and left there for Navy in 2008.
As a practitioner of triple-option offense, Ingram routinely visited Navy for coaching clinics and got to know the staff well. He will never forget getting the call from Niumatalolo, who had just been promoted to head coach, with the offer to become an assistant.
Ingram became an instrumental part of a Navy program that posted winning records in 10 of 12 seasons from 2008 through 2019. The Midshipmen captured the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy six times during that era.
“Navy had always been a dream school for me and I’m forever indebted to Coach Niumatalolo for giving me the opportunity he did,” Ingram said. “It’s been an incredible experience. To be part of the Naval Academy football program during a period of such great success was very rewarding.”
Ingram was grateful to be retained on staff when Newberry took over. However, the reality is that 15 of his 16 years with Navy football were spent under Niumatalolo.
“To me, Coach Niumat is the greatest leader of men that I’ve ever been around,” Ingram said. “Coach Niumat was so good to me and my family. It was because of our relationship that I could never bring myself to leave whenever those opportunities arose.”
“Navy had always been a dream school for me and I’m forever indebted to [Ken Niumatalolo] for giving me the opportunity he did,” Ingram said after announcing he is leaving the program to become head coach at Carson-Newman. “It’s been an incredible experience. To be part of the Naval Academy football program during a period of such great success was very rewarding.” Ingram was personally responsible for opening a pipeline from Tennessee to Annapolis.
He started recruiting the Volunteer state in 2008 and proceeded to land a long line of talented players.
Niumatalolo, who currently serves as director of leadership for UCLA football, called Ingram the “best all-around coach” he’s worked with during 34 years in college football.
“Ashley is an elite leader and a man of character and faith. He is a people person whose players love and revere him,” Niumatalolo said. “Ashley is the complete package as a coach and I wish him all the best in this next chapter of his career.”
Ingram and wife Jennifer have three children — 15-year-old Laura, 12-year-old James and seven-year-old William. Ingram said the family will keep its home in Annapolis so the children can continue to play for their club lacrosse teams.
Article written by Bill
Wagner of the Capital