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Brian Polian: Things I Know

Jan. 28, 2017 This is an exclusive interview with new Notre Dame special teams coach Brian Polian who officially joined Brian Kelly’s staff Dec. 27. Polian comes to South Bend after four seasons as head coach at Nevada. Polian previously spent one season at Texas A&M, two years at Stanford, five seasons at Notre Dame (2005-09), all coaching special teams. He also coached one year at Central Florida and four at Buffalo. The 1997 John Carroll graduate was a graduate assistant at Michigan State and Baylor.

When we decided to part ways at Nevada we decided to sit tight for a little while. We thought we’d have some options and we did. But ultimately when Coach (Brian) Kelly reached out and wanted to know if I’d be interested in coming back, any other option got put by the wayside. After four years of being a head coach the thought of transitioning back to a place we loved so much made it a very, very easy decision because the University has a special place in my heart. We have very dear friends we’re moving back to and my son arrived while we were here and that’s special. I did not know Coach Kelly when he arrived, but over the last three or four years we’re gotten to know each other and I have the upmost respect for him. I’m excited to work for him and see if in some small way I can help get this thing going.

I never changed my cell phone number from when I was here at Notre Dame before. I don’t know why people change cell phone numbers–I have 14 years worth of contacts in there. We’re not far from where we lived the first time. My wife Laura had two very dear girlfriends from our first time around, and I had two buddies from the neighborhood who were not connected with the University who became dear friends and would travel to see us at Stanford, Nevada and Texas A&M. So coming back to people you know who are excited to have you back makes the transition quite easy.

How lucky we are to coach kids who come to a place like Notre Dame. I was lucky in that regard at Stanford to coach very similar kids. The passion of the fan base here is awesome, especially when it’s going good. What has completely blown my mind is the number of people who have reached out and said, “Welcome back.” People in town, people I don’t now, and they come over and say, “Welcome back.” Hearing from people like Manti (Te’o), Kyle McCarthy, John Ryan, Kyle Rudolph and Mike Anello–just a lot of guys saying, “I’m happy you’re back.” That kind of caught me by surprise. That’s been fun.

As far as special teams, I start with a clean slate with everybody. I’m not here to say we need to change X, Y or Z. My job is to do the best job we can moving forward. I have a very specific philosophy about it that was truly developed in my five years here and honed at other places. I believe we have Coach Kelly’s support to do the things we need to do to be good in the kicking game. I was talking to Coach (Mike) Elko. He’s trying to get to know the defense, I’m trying to get to know the whole team. That’s the fun of it for me because at some point I get to coach just about everybody on the team. Trying to get to know the guys and where the parts fit–that’s part of the fun.

This is a unique situation for me personally because I don’t think I’ve ever come new to a staff that wasn’t all completely new and we all came in together. So that’s been a little bit different. Talking to Mike (Elko) and Clark (Lea) I’m not quite in their boat either because I have an incredible comfort level here even coming back after being gone seven years. Chad Klunder, Dave Peloquin, Ron Powlus–there are people like that in the building I am very close with. There’s no transition in town, so it’s been very unique in that sense. It feels like collectively we’ve hit the re-set button. For me, being around the players, being around the building, two to three weeks of recruiting–I sense a lot of positive energy. Jack Swarbrick said it best–sometimes things have to go through an evaluation and you’re more willing to look at those things when you come off a frustrating season. So, to me, I’m approaching this as though we are starting new. We are here under Coach Kelly’s leadership and he knows the place very well–but there are a bunch of us starting up again and it’s exciting. I don’t think it’s anything to be afraid of. It’s a positive.

As far as special teams, we will involve lots of people. I know Coach (Kelly) is anxious to be involved. We’ll have contributions from the whole staff, like we always do, but ultimately somebody’s got to kind of move the chess pieces around and be the voice and that’ll be my role. There’s expertise to lean on and the more people that are involved the more the players understand how important it is.

–Edited by John Heisler, senior associate athletics director