A whirlwind two-week period where a prominent figure in the history of the University of Nevada, Reno exited the University stage with a retirement announcement ended on Friday afternoon in Legacy Hall when a 38-year-old, newly minted head football coach officially took the reins of Wolf Pack football.
Brian Polian, an assistant coach at Texas A&M with a reputation as one of the nation’s finest recruiters, spent his first afternoon as Wolf Pack head football coach at a press conference in the Hall of Fame Room in Legacy Hall.
“I’m absolutely blessed to have this opportunity … humbled to have this opportunity and I cannot tell you how excited I am to be here,” Polian said before a packed audience that included athletic director Cary Groth and Polian’s wife, Laura, and the couple’s two children, Aidan and baby Charlotte.
The Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents approved Polian’s five-year contract in a vote earlier Friday during a meeting in Las Vegas.
Polian becomes the 26th head coach in the 106-year history of Wolf Pack football. Polian follows the extraordinary career of Chris Ault, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame who announced on Dec. 28 he was stepping down as head coach following more than 40 years associated with the football program as a player, coach and administrator.
Polian made it clear that he respected Ault’s legacy, and that in some ways there is no replacing such a seminal figure in the history of Wolf Pack athletics.
“I cannot replace the man, and will not try to,” Polian said. “I’m simply going to try to build on the unbelievable tradition, that (Ault) has laid.”
Polian grew emotional as he spoke of his family, noting that son Aidan, “my man Aidan, is going on his fourth city in four years here (in Reno).” He thanked his wife, and his voice caught for a moment. “I owe a debt of gratitude to chase this dream … excuse me … our dream,” he said of his wife’s encouragement.
Polian – who was introduced by Groth not only as an excellent coach, “but more than any of it, he is a kind man” – thanked Groth and President Marc Johnson for the opportunity: “I’ll be forever indebted that they were willing to take this chance.”
Polian said he would not make any bold predictions, except one: “We will make sure that we’ll continue to build a program that this community and city can be proud of.” He added that in touring the athletic department’s facilities and in meeting the department’s staff, he had come away greatly impressed.
“I’m very excited and energized about the possibilities here,” he said. “This is a great situation.”
Polian’s previous coaching posts include roles at Stanford (2010-11), Notre Dame (2005-09), UCF (2004) and Buffalo (2001-03). He was a nominee for the American Football Coaches Association’s Assistant Coach of the Year in 2008. He is the son of Bill Polian, one of the most accomplished general managers and executives in NFL history, who built a perennial Super Bowl contender at Buffalo in the early 1990s and a Super Bowl champion in Indianapolis (2006 season).
During the press conference Polian showed a good sense of humor on a couple of occasions. At the beginning, he thanked his parents for their support, and said they were at home watching the press conference streaming live on their computer – provided his father had turned on the computer correctly.
He also joked about the snow that was falling Friday afternoon.
“I haven’t seen snow in four years,” he said with a wide, boyish grin. “Everybody’s apologizing. I’m from Buffalo … this is great.”
A native of The Bronx, New York, Polian graduated from at St. Francis High School and played linebacker at John Carroll University from 1993-96. He earned a bachelor's degree in history from John Carroll in 1997 and received his master's degree in education from Baylor in 2000.