Edwin Mulitalo stands shirtless before his Baltimore Ravens teammates, battle-ready.
The 6-foot-3, 350-pound offensive lineman is here to set the tone in training camp during the summer of 2001. “It’s time to go to war,” he says to the room, as chronicled by HBO’s “Hard Knocks.”
All eyes are trained on Mulitalo — a Californian by birth, Samoan by blood — as he transforms into a wild-eyed warrior. He bellows the fearsome Haka chant, a Polynesian war dance once used by Maori tribesmen to intimidate their opponents.
He slaps his biceps and chest, stomping his feet in rhythm as he chants. The room erupts in applause as he finishes.
The Ravens were coming off a season in which they beat the New York Giants, 34-7, to win the franchise’s first championship, marking a high point for Mulitalo during his second year in the league. He went on to have a 10-year NFL career, 1999-2006 with the Ravens and 2007-2008 with the Detroit Lions.
Almost two decades after the Super Bowl win and famous war dance scene, Mulitalo, 44, is ready to reach another career peak as the head football coach at Southern Virginia University. He joined the small Division III program in 2016, serving as defensive line coach and defensive coordinator before being promoted to the head job in March.
Mulitalo has won at every level as a football player, from a conference title at Jefferson High School (Daly City, Calif.) to a Holiday Bowl victory in 1998 with the University of Arizona and, of course, the Super Bowl. He endured losing, too; he started 11 games for the 2008 Lions team that failed to win a single game.
“I’ve been on the top of the mountains, so high that you can almost touch the clouds, and I’ve been on the bottom of a cave, under a rock,” Mulitalo said. “And in both of those places, it wasn’t necessarily the excess of talent or the lack of talent.”
Mulitalo will try to infuse a winning culture in a Southern Virginia team that went 4-16 the past two seasons.
“I tell them, ‘Guys, it’s the intangibles. … It’s the love for the game, the love for your brothers. It’s the trust that you build. It’s putting each other before yourself. It’s those kinds of things that make you great.'”
Mulitalo knows building a culture is vital to building a winning program.
“It will never be the other way around,” he said. “You can’t have the good things first and then decide to build a program. … If we build this culture that I’m trying to install, the wins will come.”
Mulitalo has always wanted to be a coach, he said. In 2012, he moved his family more than 8,000 miles to Western Samoa to become the head football coach at St. Joseph’s College High School, a move he said was more about family than football.
“My wife and children had sacrificed so much for me and my [football] career in the last 12-14 years,” he said. “I wanted to focus on the family and … get my kids rooted in the culture. That was big for me.”
The Mulitalo family spent almost three years in the South Pacific. He returned in 2015 to help coach Southern Utah University to a Big Sky Conference championship. Then Southern Virginia came calling.
“In coaching, you’re trying to help impact some lives, and when you’re the head coach you can do it at the maximum level,” Mulitalo said. “I hope that I can put my stamp on the program and do good things.”
Mulitalo’s coaching philosophy is a mixture of tough love and endless positivity, he said.
“If you come and ask me as a coach, ‘How am I doing?’ you need to be prepared for the answer. At the same time, after I coach you up on the field and in film sessions, after that I’m a mentor. I want to talk to you, I want to get to know you. And then I’m Polynesian. It will always be about respect and tough love and family.”
One thing Mulitalo won’t be teaching his players is the Haka. That responsibility falls to Landon Winitana, a freshman defensive tackle and New Zealand native, Mulitalo said. Winitana, one of 15 Polynesian players on the roster, has already taught the entire SVU team the war dance.
“They’ve done it for me … and it was amazing,” Mulitalo said. “Better than I could ever do it. I’ll leave it up to them when they want to do it [to] pump up the boys.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Southern Virginia University
Issue 247: September 2018
Originally published Sept. 17, 2018