Brian Polian has never been afraid of a recruiting challenge.
“I’ll never forget the time at Notre Dame when Charlie Weis told me, ‘Go to California and beat USC and UCLA on players,’” the new Nevada Wolf Pack head football coach said recently. “I was so young I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to win those battles.”
Polian, it seems, hasn’t lost many important recruiting battles in his 16-year college coaching career, the last eight at Notre Dame, Stanford and Texas A&M. And he doesn’t plan on losing many at Nevada.
“I have no doubt we’ll be able to recruit some outstanding student athletes,” the 38-year-old Polian said.
Recruiting outstanding student athletes apparently is a Polian specialty. One of his first was in 2009 when he lured highly recruited linebacker Manti Te’o out of Hawaii to join the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, when most recruiting experts expected Te’o to go to either BYU, USC or UCLA.
“When Manti Te’o committed to Notre Dame that changed the perception of me as a recruiter,” Polian said.
With Polian on board at Nevada with a five-year contract, the hope is that the school eventually produces its best recruiting class since 2006 when head coach Chris Ault signed the likes of Colin Kaepernick, Vai Taua, Dontay Moch, Virgil Green, Jonathon Amaya, Marko Mitchell, John Bender and Kevin Basped.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Polian, who said he came to Nevada last week “with a suitcase as big as a Volkswagen” so he could get right to work on recruiting. “We have three weeks left and we have a lot of spots to fill. We need to get out on the road and get in some homes right away.”
The Wolf Pack’s 2013 recruiting class currently has five members. Two of them -- safety Julian Brooks (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) of Sierra Canyon High School in Chatsworth, Calif., and running back Don Jackson (5-10, 210) of Iowa Western College (by way of Sacramento) -- signed letters of intent last month on the first day of the mid-year signing period.
The other three -- wide receiver/defensive back Kaodi Dike (6-2, 194) of Stockton, Calif., linebacker Alec Moreno (6-2, 225) of San Diego and offensive lineman Chad Specht (6-5, 260) of Clovis, Calif., -- have given a verbal commitment and can’t sign a letter of intent until the first day of the signing period on Feb. 6. One other Wolf Pack verbal commitment, quarterback Isaac Dotson of Bellevue, Wash., who committed to Nevada last June, has changed his mind and said this week he will sign with Washington State.
Polian expects a recruiting class on Feb. 6 that Pack fans can get excited about.
“I’m confident we’ll find 17 or 18 student athletes who will want us and who we’ll want,” he said.
Polian is simply a bulldog when it comes to recruiting.
“You know, I firmly believe that you can outwork people in recruiting,” he said. “I don’t know if you can outwork people in coaching. All coaches work hard. It’s hard to just outwork guys in that area. But you can outwork other staffs in recruiting.”
Polian promised that he won’t allow his Wolf Pack staff to be outworked in recruiting by anyone.
“You have to have assistant coaches who will drive those extra 90 miles to those little towns out of the way that nobody has ever heard of,” Polian said. “You have to turn over that rock that nobody else sees. That’s how you get people.”
Ault and his staffs the past 30 years filled the Wolf Pack roster with players from the state of California, especially players from the Sacramento to Bakersfield valley. Polian plans on expanding the Pack’s recruiting focus.
“I have strong recruiting ties in California from when I was with Notre Dame and Stanford,” he said. “We’ll be strong there. But I’m also hoping to open up Texas, too. There’s no reason why we can’t recruit there. I also want to go into Hawaii and into the Pacific Northwest.
“We’re kind of playing catch-up a little bit right now so this recruiting class might have a more national flavor to it. But we’ll find athletes who can help this program.”
Last month, when he was still with Texas A&M, Polian went into Hawaii and secured speedy wide receiver Jeremy Tabuyo of the St. Louis School for the Aggies. He was also recruiting Isaac Savaiinaea, a highly sought-after linebacker from the Punahou School. Savaiinaea hasn’t given a verbal commitment yet and is supposedly deciding between UCLA, Stanford, Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Arizona. And, you can bet, he’ll get a call from Nevada.
Polian, after all, doesn’t know which recruiting battles he is supposed to lose. And that hasn’t changed, especially now that he has his first head coaching job.
“I’m not concerned about who is recruiting an athlete,” Polian said. “I don’t care how many stars are attached to his name. I don’t care who has given them an offer. I couldn’t care less about all that. I want my coaches to first trust their own eyes. If our staff believes in a guy, we’ll go after him.”
Polian also couldn’t care less that he is not recruiting for a BCS school any longer. Nevada, he said, has plenty of things to sell to a recruit.
“We have good facilities here,” he said. “Between the stadium, the practice field, the football facility, there are plenty of things we can recruit to, things we can be positive about.”
One of those things is a young, second-year pro playing quarterback right now with the San Francisco 49ers.
“When I’m out there talking to offensive players, I don’t want to talk to them only about the pistol,” Polian said. “I also want to go into their homes, pull out a couple pictures of Colin Kaepernick, one in his Nevada uniform and one in his 49ers uniform, and tell them, ‘This is what you can do if you come to Nevada.’”
Polian also doesn’t plan on taking it easy himself now that he is a head coach. He promises to work just as hard in recruiting as when he was a recruiting coordinator (at Stanford and Central Florida) and when he was just an assistant coach looking to make a name for himself.
“I’m going to be an active recruiter,” he said. “I know the perception about me. My recruiting abilities are why I got this job. I know that and I am going to work just as hard at recruiting as I ever did.”
The Wolf Pack, Polian said, is an easy sell to recruits.
“I know a lot of young men out there like Nevada,” he said. “My job now is to not screw it up.”