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Polian had no chance to succeed in first season

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Brian Polian never had a chance.

The Nevada Wolf Pack's rookie head coach could have been George Halas, Don Shula, Bear Bryant, Knute Rockne and Amos Alonzo Stagg all rolled into one slick silver and blue package and it wouldn't have made a difference this season.

The schedule got him. The schedule suffocated and then buried him. The schedule was simply unfair.

The Wolf Pack finished 4-8 this season and deserves every one of those losses. Nobody denies that. But they really only lost one game -- UNLV at home -- they should have won. Losing only one game it should have won would have been considered a great season in the Ault era. In his final season alone, after all, Ault's Pack lost five games it should have won.

Polian, who was faced with the toughest schedule in Wolf Pack history, never had a chance to be successful his first year as head coach.

Non-conference games on the road at UCLA and Florida State and at home against BYU. Mountain West games on the road at Fresno State, Boise State, San Diego State and Colorado State. It's no wonder Ault ran away last December for the safety and security of a cushy NFL consultants job.

Ault never had to deal with a schedule like this in 28 years as a Pack coach. When the schedule even had the faint odor of being difficult -- like early in 2011 -- Ault would pitch a fit like a spoiled 6-year-old and remind everyone that he was working for people who couldn't tell a football from a footstool.

Polian, though, couldn't complain about the schedule this year, at least not publicly. He was a young coach grateful to finally find someone willing to give him a head coaching job. The last thing he could do was complain about his first schedule.

And the last thing Polian -- a guy who really wasn't prepared or ready to become a head coach in the Mountain West in the first place -- needed was a schedule like this. He needed a schedule like Ault had his first year. Cal State Hayward, Willamette, Montana Tech, Simon Fraser, Chico State, to name but a few patsies. In his second year Ault got the likes of Westminster, San Francisco State and Western Montana. And it stayed that way for the better part of the next decade or so until the Wolf Pack started to smell the easy money of Division I-A football.

That same smell of Division I-A money is what convinced the Pack that it was justified in playing UCLA, Florida State and BYU in the same season. Hey, they wanted to play Florida State, UCLA and Oregon this year but something about child labor laws prevented that ugliness.

This schedule never allowed Polian to even take a deep breath. It never allowed him to get both his feet firmly planted on the ground and take a bold step forward. It was simply Wolf Pack panic mode from start to finish.

Make no mistake, Polian might have also struggled against Montana Tech, Westminster, Simon Fraser and Willamette. He's a guy who never had to design a defense or an offense before this year, never had to create a defensive or offensive game plan. His biggest challenge during his career before this year was sweet-talking high school seniors and their parents on recruiting trips and backup linebackers and defensive backs during the season to cover a punt or kickoff.

And now he had to go compete with UCLA, Florida State and BYU and try to beat Fresno State, Boise State, Colorado State and San Diego State on the road?

Good luck with that. This schedule buried Polian and his staff. It's a wonder why he hasn't already returned to one of those cushy special teams coaching jobs at a BCS school.

The Pack panic attack all started this year on the road at UCLA. Just playing a game at the Rose Bowl is enough to frighten most Pack teams. But when you toss in one of the more talented UCLA teams in the last couple decades, well, it's sort of like fighting Mike Tyson in his prime in your first professional fight.

Ault got Cal State Hayward at home in his first game as Pack coach. Polian got UCLA at the Rose Bowl. You do the math.

Two weeks after UCLA, Polian and his overwhelmed team had to go to Florida State. Without injured quarterback Cody Fajardo, no less. It was sort of like tossing a one-legged, blind poodle into the basement against six hungry and angry Pit Bulls.

Fajardo sprained his knee against UC Davis. It turned out to be the best stroke of luck for the Pack all season because he couldn't play the next week at Florida State. Backup quarterback Devin Combs had his knee mangled and devoured against Florida State. That could have been Fajardo.

Going to Florida State to play a football game is something the Wolf Pack football program should never do. It doesn't matter how much money you get to take home on the plane. If you need to play Florida State for money, well, let's just say something like that is only legal in certain counties in Nevada.

Polian was up against a firing squad this year without a blindfold or cigarette. He had to coach another coach's players, run another coach's offense and play an inhumane schedule along the way. Covering punts in South Bend and Palo Alto was looking like a pretty great life about three weeks into the season for the young coach.

This year's schedule wouldn't have been as onerous if Polian was a veteran coach like Ault. Ault could take a licking and keep on ticking. He'd just blame it on all the evil forces working against him and move on.

But this year's schedule toyed with Polian's psyche and confidence, like it would any young, wet-behind-the-ears head coach. It was the worst possible year for such a daunting early-season schedule. The only reason you hire a young and inexperienced head coach like Polian is because he has an abundance of hope, promise and optimism. He hasn't lost a game yet, after all. He's a boy wonder who is going to take you to the promised land.

UCLA and Florida State wiped all of that hope and promise away by the middle of September.

And then came the Mountain West schedule. This just happened to be a year that the Pack had to play all of its toughest conference games on the road. Boise State, San Diego State, Colorado State and Fresno State. Ault was 1-11 at Boise in his career. He was 3-3 at Fresno, 0-2 at San Diego State and Colorado State.

Polian is now 0-4 against those teams combined. And nobody should have expected anything more than that. His teams played as well as they could in all four of those Mountain West road losses. But they were simply up against better, deeper, faster, stronger and tougher football teams.

Blame it on the schedule. It wore this Pack team down. We saw it one last time at home on Saturday against BYU. The Pack simply didn't have the energy this year to take a victory even when the opposition was handing it to them.

That's what happens when you get beat down and ravaged by the schedule.

The good news is that while the schedule was the Pack's worst enemy in 2013, it will be its best friend in 2014. The Wolf Pack can't help but win three more games next year just by the schedule alone.

First of all, Florida State and UCLA have been replaced by Washington State and Arizona. They then get Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State and San Diego State at home. They get Air Force, Hawaii, San Jose State and UNLV on the road.

The Wolf Pack is looking at a minimum seven-win season in 2014 even if it doesn't get any better than it was this year. Expect at least four wins at home next year against Southern Utah, Washington State, Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State and San Diego State. And they should get at least three wins on the road against Air Force, Hawaii, San Jose State, UNLV, Arizona and BYU.

Even this year's team would have won six games with that schedule. The Wolf Pack could be looking at nine wins in 2014.

Hey, it's the off-season, the time for Pack hope and promise. The Pack can't lose another game for almost nine months. All is right in the Wolf Pack world once again.

Can you feel it? Yes, that is hope and promise in the air again. It's slowly coming back. And it's only because that ridiculous, cruel joke of a schedule is finally, mercifully over.



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