Polian faces difficult decisions
October 31, 2013
Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .
Brian Polian might have to make some very difficult decisions once this Nevada Wolf Pack football season is over. We've said all along that Polian's success or failure in his career would depend upon the performance of his assistants. Polian is a motivator, a tone setter, a guy who spends his time worrying about uniforms, remodeling the locker room, playing music at practice and making sure his players help sell tickets on their way from the locker room to the field. The X's and O's, game plans and actual coaching are left to his assistants. Polian needs very good assistant coaches. He seemingly returned a lot of favors when picking out his assistants last winter, hiring friends and friends of friends. He might have to let a few of those friends go after this season if he is going to flourish as the Pack head coach.
It is way too early to start the hiring-Polian-was-a-mistake conversation. Is he the next Chris Peterson? Probably not. But he's also not likely going to be the next Chris Tormey. If the Wolf Pack is still losing to UNLV at Mackay stadium in 2015 then you can start the pull-the-plug-on-Polian conversation. Polian is learning on the job. To go from a special teams coach to a head coach is a dramatic jump. Chris Ault built a program the last four decades that only he could coach. It's why everyone who succeeded him only had fleeting success at best. It was a program where the quarterback was king and was responsible for covering a lot of the program's sins. It worked for Ault mainly because he was around to hold the quarterback's hand at every dangerous turn. It won't work for Polian, a guy who needs good players and good assistants — on both sides of the ball — to be successful.
Polian, like most coaches who have built their reputations as recruiters, seems enamored with pure athletic ability and talent. He has hinted not so subtly this year that this current Wolf Pack roster simply doesn't have enough of that desired talent and ability. Polian seems to think that bigger, faster, stronger is the medicine for all that ails this Pack football program when, in reality, it is smarter, tougher and hungrier. Polian, though, will learn that bigger, faster, stronger only gets you good grades on signing day. It doesn't always translate to victories in the fall. As a former Notre Dame coach under Charlie Weis from 2005-09 Polian should know that as well as anyone.
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The loss to UNLV was a disgrace. Talk about karma. Somewhere Ault is smiling. The image of UNLV celebrating on Chris Ault Field with the Fremont Cannon should never be forgotten by Pack fans, players and coaches. Polian said all week that he knew what the UNLV game meant to Pack fans. It turns out he had no clue. How else can you explain how ill-prepared and undisciplined (13 penalties) his players were on Saturday? The Pack played with no energy, emotion or sense of urgency. It was as if they were merely relying on their shiny new chrome helmets to blind the Rebels. But maybe the unforgivable loss was a good thing. Sometimes you have to totally break something down to build it back up again. Consider the Pack totally broken down.
All of the above doesn't mean that the Pack will never win another game this season. The UNLV game might just be the wakeup call this Pack team needed. And, as far as wakeup calls are concerned, the loss to UNLV was a 747 roaring through your bedroom window at dawn. Consider the Pack awake. Fresno State is the most overrated team in the Top 25 right now. The Pack is the best 3-5 team in the nation. Neither team plays any defense. Anything can happen. You have to think that Fresno's unbelievable string of good fortune is going to run out sometime soon. The Bulldogs and their fans will all be dressed in black on Saturday. It's up to the Pack to turn it into a Fresno funeral.
The Wolf Pack athletic department is letting all fans in for free at Monday night's men's basketball exhibition game against Montana Tech. That's nice. Now all they have to do to make everything right with Pack fans is to issue refunds to everyone that bought a ticket to witness the ugliness that took place on Saturday at Mackay Stadium. Early in his career Ault promised refunds to any fan that left Mackay Stadium unsatisfied. Only one fan took him up on his offer. On Saturday there were about 30,000 that would have liked the same offer.
Will this year's men's basketball team be worth the price of admission? If David Carter stops coaching Deonte Burton, it will be. It's time Carter just hands Burton the basketball and tells him, 'Go to work, young man.' Burton is at his best when he simply lets his instincts take over, when he allows his basketball joyfulness to overflow. You can see the transformation take place right before your eyes on the court. He becomes cocky, confident and dares anyone to get in his way. Carter should spend this entire season simply coaching everyone else on the roster how to play with Burton. It's Burton's basketball. It's Burton's team. It's Burton's season.