His pistol offense.
“I’m not a dummy,” new Wolf Pack head coach Brian Polian said last week when he was introduced as the school’s 26th head coach. “The offense has been pretty good here.”
Polian, who watched Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel win the Heisman trophy last year when he (Polian) was the Aggies special teams coach, didn’t waste any time bringing back Ault’s pistol.
“It’s not broken so why come in here and try to overhaul it?” Polian said. “The players are comfortable with it and they enjoy it.”
Polian, who has never been an offensive or defensive coordinator, made sure the Pack’s pistol was well taken care of. The 38-year-old first-time head coach, lured offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich back to Nevada to run the Pack offense even before his five-year contract was officially approved by the Nevada Board of Regents last Friday. Rolovich left the Pack after just one season under Ault’s tutelage to become Temple’s offensive coordinator in late December.
“He was our first and most important recruit,” Polian said of Rolovich.
Rolovich, who was trained at Hawaii in the run-and-shoot offense as a quarterback, quarterback’s coach and offensive coordinator, gives the Pack offense a comfortable feeling of stability.
“Nick has an outstanding reputation,” Polian said. “And he spent a very valuable year with Coach Ault.”
The pistol offense, invented by Ault after the 2004 season, has revolutionized the sport of football at all levels. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the Babe Ruth of the pistol, has now taken what he has learned at Nevada to the professional level and has carried the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC championship game next week.
The Pack, which has operated out of the pistol since the start of the 2005 season, is 65-39 through 104 games with the pistol and has been to eight bowl games in eight seasons. The pistol, which has been mainly engineered by quarterbacks Jeff Rowe (2005-06), Kaepernick (2007-10) and Cody Fajardo (2011-12), has averaged 35.6 points and 479.4 yards a game through its 104-game history.
“Coach Ault’s pistol offense is as good a scheme as the football world has seen,” Rolovich said last week. “It’s revolutionary.”
It definitely revolutionized Wolf Pack football, which peaked during Kaepernick’s senior year in 2010 with a 13-1 record and Top 25 national ranking. Polian had never been to northern Nevada before he interviewed for the job but one of the few things he did know about northern Nevada was that it was the birthplace of the pistol.
“This pistol offense is Nevada’s identity,” said Polian, who said he has never worked for a school that predominantly ran the pistol. “Why change it?”
That doesn’t mean there won’t be changes, subtle and not so subtle, to the pistol.
Expect Rolovich, with his pass-happy, run-and-shoot pedigree, to add much more of his own personality to the offense this year now that Ault is no longer calling the shots. And expect Polian, who has watched outstanding quarterbacks up close during his coaching career such as Manziel, Stanford’s Andrew Luck (2010-11) and Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen and Brady Quinn (2005-09), to add his own wrinkles.
Change, though, is something Ault preached throughout his career, changing his offense from the run-based Wing T days with Frank Hawkins in the late 1970s to the pass-heavy years in the 1990s with Chris Vargas and Mike Maxwell to the pistol this decade. The pistol evolved every year under Ault and it no doubt would have changed this year, too, even had Ault stayed.
“The biggest thing I took from Coach Ault,” Rolovich said, “was to be never satisfied. He never got stale in his offensive thinking.”
Polian, though, said he doesn’t plan on making any major changes to the pistol. The Pack offense, he assured, will still be called the pistol and not some Polian-Rolovich hybrid version (how does the Roly-Poly sound?).
“I’m not going to mess with it,” Polian said. “But, that being said, players win games. Schemes don’t win games. We‘re not going to change it.But tThe program is not about the head coach, it‘s not about the system. It’s about the players.”
Polian is well aware that he has one of the best pistol quarterbacks in the nation with two more years of eligibility remaining. Polian and Fajardo also already know each other from the recruiting trail a couple years ago.
“I recruited him when he was in high school and I enjoyed getting to know him during that process,” Polian said. “I’m blessed to have inherited a good quarterback like (Fajardo).”
The Polian family has already given its stamp of approval on Fajardo.
“My brother Chris is an Atlanta Falcons scout and he’s seen Cody and evaluated him,” Polian said. “The minute I got this job, the first thing my brother told me was, ‘You have a real quarterback there.’”
The relationship between Fajardo and Rolovich is also very strong and will likely grow stronger. When Rolovich announced he was going to Temple last month, Fajardo got on Twitter and tweeted to Rolovich, “U r 1 of the most inspirational coaches I have ever played for. U will be missed.”
Rolovich and the pistol are back. It turns out they never really went anywhere. And the Pack offense likely won’t miss a beat this year.