Fighting cold temperatures and dodging snowflakes.
“Everybody has been coming up to me and apologizing for the weather,” said Polian, who was approved by the Nevada Board of Regents in Las Vegas Friday morning to become the 26th head coach in the history of the Nevada Wolf Pack football program. “I just told them, ‘I’m from Buffalo. This is great.’”
The 38-year-old son of former NFL executive Bill Polian comes to Nevada after 16 seasons of college coaching experience, the last eight at BCS schools.
“I’m ready for this,” he said. “I’m as ready as I could be.”
Polian first learned of the Wolf Pack head coaching vacancy while watching ESPN the day Wolf Pack Hall of Fame coach Chris Ault announced his retirement on Dec. 28 after 28 seasons at Nevada.
“I saw the scroll across the television screen that Coach Ault retired,” said Polian, the special teams coordinator at Texas A&M this past season. “I remember thinking, ‘Somebody is going to get a real good job.’ And that somebody turned out to be me.”
The Wolf Pack offered the position to Polian just seven days later on Jan. 4. Polian was in Arlington, Texas with Texas A&M getting ready to take on Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.
“We were getting ready to go to Cowboys Stadium,” Polian said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would realize my dream when I was just four hours before my team was going to kick off.”
The last thing on Polian’s mind after being offered the Pack job was the Cotton Bowl.
“I remember I was in the shower trying to get my mind right, getting ready to go to the stadium,” said Polian, who coached Texas A&M’s special teams. “It was crazy. I remember thinking, ‘Here I am, finally getting the opportunity I’ve always wanted and what if Cary Groth has to introduce her new coach whose team just laid an egg on national TV. I knew I had to focus and get ready for a game.”
Polian signed a five-year contract with a base salary of $475,000 for the first two years and $525,000 for the final three years. His contract also includes numerous incentives that could pay him close to $800,000 a year.
Some of the incentives include $15,000 for every weekday game on national television and $25,000 for a national television game on Saturday. He gets $10,000 for every 5,000 season tickets the Wolf Pack sells above 10,000. He also earns $50,000 for his coach’s television and radio shows and personal appearances.
If the Wolf Pack wins the Mountain West and goes to a BCS bowl Polian will receive an additional $100,000. If they win the conference and go to a non-BCS bowl he gets $50,000. And if they simply go to a bowl game (without winning the conference) he gets $15,000.
Polian also will receive $15,000 if the Pack finishes in the Top 20 of the USA Today Coach Poll and $10,000 if he is named Mountain West Coach of the Year. He also can receive up to $50,000 depending upon his players’ Academic Performance Rate (APR).
The contract also calls for a $10,000 a year country club membership, a dozen Wolf Pack football season tickets and four season tickets to every other Pack sport. He can also earn income from a shoe, apparel and equipment contracts.
“I’m absolutely blessed to have this opportunity, humbled to have this opportunity,” Polian said.
Polian was quick to praise Ault in his first, official press conference as Pack head coach.
“I understand I can’t replace the man and I’m not going to try,” Polian said. “I understand the legacy he created at this university. Nobody could replace Chris Ault. I’m am just going to try and build on the tradition he’s laid at this university.”
Polian said he had a brief telephone conversation with Ault after he accepted the Nevada job.
“Chris Ault was one of the first calls I made,” he said.
Polian didn’t promise a string of BCS bowl games for the Pack.
“I’m not going to make any grand pronouncements about what we’re going to do,” he said. “All I will say is we will attempt to continue to build this program and make sure it is something this university can be proud of not only in the state of Nevada but up and down the west coast.”
Polian did say that he will run Ault’s pistol offense. Offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich, who left the Pack last month to become the offensive coordinator at Temple, has returned to Nevada and will be Polian’s offensive coordinator.
“I’m not a dummy,” Polian said. “The offense has been pretty good here.”
As far as the rest of his staff is concerned, all Polian would says is, “That is fluid.”
Polian, though, did admit that he is looking for a new defensive coordinator. The Pack currently does have an opening on its defensive staff after Barry Sacks left to coach at California last month.
The current defensive coordinator, Mike Bradeson, remains on staff as does the rest of Ault’s assistants: Ken Wilson (associate head coach), Scott Baumgartner (wide receivers), Darren Hiller (offensive line), Larry Lewis (special teams coordinator/ running backs), James Spady (tight ends), James Ward (cornerbacks), Dave Brown (director of operations) and Andy Vaughn (Director of Player Personnel).
Polian said he has made some decisions regarding the future of the current assistants but he also would not reveal those decisions. He also said he will not introduce all his new coaching hires separately.
“I’m not going to announce them until the staff is complete,” said Polian, who added that is staff might not be completed until early February. “I’ll release the whole staff at one time.”
This is Polian’s first head coaching job. He has also never been a defensive or offensive coordinator. Special teams is his area of expertise though he has also coached positions on both sides of the ball since his coaching career began as a graduate assistant at Michigan state in 1997. In addition to Texas A&M, Stanford and Notre Dame the past eight years he’s also coached at Buffalo (1998), Baylor (grad assistant in 1999-2000), Buffalo again (2001-03) and Central Florida (2004). He was Notre Dame’s special teams coordinator in 2009 when the Wolf Pack opened the season with a 35-0 loss at South Bend, Ind.
“I will forever be indebted to (Wolf Pack athletic director) Cary Groth and president (Marc) Johnson because they were willing to take this chance on me,” Polian said. “It was never my intention to leave Texas A&M after just one year. But when I went there I told them that my dream was to become a head coach someday. And when this job came open I had to go after it.
“When a lot of jobs come open, it means you have to start over, that everything is a mess. That’s is not the case here. This is not a broken situation. I am very fortunate to be able to coach in a situation like this.”
Polian got very emotional more than a few times when describing what it means for him to become a head coach.
“Your life is invested in this,” he said. “Your parents are invested in this. When you go through the process and don’t get it, it’s heartbreaking. So when you finally get it, it’s special. My family is a football family. We’ve gone through public firings and we’ve gone through the moment of being on the sideline when my dad won the Super Bowl (with the Indianapolis Colts in 2006). This is special.”
One of the most special days of Polian’s life took place on Jan. 4 when the University of Nevada told him they wanted him to become their next football coach and when his Texas A&M Aggies won the Cotton Bowl.
“The moment when the confetti was falling down at Cowboys Stadium, knowing I was going to become a head coach, now that’s a good day.”