Brian Polian is now in his element.
The only justifiable reason why the Nevada Wolf Pack named Polian to succeed Chris Ault as head football coach last January is for this time of year. Recruiting season. The most wonderful time of year.
It's a time of hope and joy, of promise and unlimited potential. Over the recruiting fields we go, laughing all the way. Just recruit, baby. You could almost see the joy and hope in Polian's eyes earlier this week as he ended his final 2013 media gathering with the words, "See you on recruiting day."
The pressures of the season noticeably evaporated from his body like he just stepped out of a sauna. There was a bounce in his step. A gleam in his eye. He was a man with a cell phone and plane tickets.
He was in Polian heaven.
No more all of those nasty coaching responsibilities. No more peeking your head into meeting rooms during the week and declaring, 'Keep chopping wood, fellas." No more picking out slick new uniforms, shiny helmets or roomy lockers. No more schmoozing boosters, covering up injuries, yelling at the officials for four hours on Saturdays or feigning loyalty and respect for a Hall of Fame coach and a program you knew nothing about just 12 months ago.
You don't have to do any of those things in December and January when you don't go to a bowl game. And Polian wasn't about to allow a meaningless bowl game spoil his favorite time of year. After all, why spend another two or three weeks coaching an underachieving team when you can sit in some living room in small-town California, look some wide-eyed, skittish high school senior in the eye, sweet-talk his mom and dad and bring out all your best cliches?
Coaching. Schmoaching. It's overrated. Game plans? Lame plans. Half-time adjustments? The only adjustments Polian makes at halftime are combing his hair again and making sure the recruits visiting campus are taken care of. Trivial stuff like coaching, game strategy and staying one step ahead of the guy on the other sideline is overrated in the Polian world. Call a timeout in the final two minutes of the final game of the year when you are trailing and the other team has the ball? What? Are you kidding? That would just delay recruiting season.
Polian is part of the new breed of coach that understands that college football these days is all about smoke and mirrors, perception, illusion and romance. It's recruiting season 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 12 months a year, 365 days a year. It's about shiny new helmets, hugging coeds and shaking hands with potential boosters on your walk to the stadium on game day. It's about telling the media what they should think and not allowing them to see for themselves what goes on during the week.
Coaches like Polian are more concerned with building their resumes and not their playbooks. Playbook. Schlaybook. You can always get a playbook on line. You can't get a recruit on line. Well, Manti Teo not included, that is.
The next 60 days or so, until National Letter of Intent signing day on Feb. 5, are the most important 60 days of Polian's career at Nevada. It will likely determine whether or not he is more Chris Tormey or more Chris Ault.
It's all about recruiting with Polian. It's always been about recruiting with Polian. It's why he's in Nevada. The Pack didn't hire a grumpy old guy with a thick playbook and a whistle last January. They hired a slick salesman. And now it's time for that salesman to go to work.
Polian, after all, certainly didn't earn a contract extension based on his performance the last three months. Going into this season we wondered whether or not he could actually coach and make players better. We wondered whether or not he could be tough enough on players and his assistants. We wondered whether or not he could affect games. We wondered whether or not he was more than just a professional interviewer.
Well, we're still wondering about all those things. While the final conclusions on any of those topics aren't in yet, let's just say nothing that happened in the 2013 season gave us any positive answers. Let's also just say that Polian is lucky Ault wasn't his athletic director this past season.
The most important question about Polian, though, is not whether or not he can coach. It's about whether or not he can coach his coaches on how to recruit at a school like Nevada. We'll assume Polian knows everything there is to know about recruiting at a BCS school like Notre Dame, Stanford and Texas A&M.
But what Polian did at Notre Dame, Stanford and Texas A&M means absolutely nothing at Nevada. Anyone can recruit at Notre Dame. You just conjure up a couple imaginary girlfriends, keep some pictures of the golden dome and a DVD of the movie Rudy in your briefcase and, presto, the top linebacker recruit in the nation is signing his Letter of Intent.
Nevada is a new world for Polian. This will be the most challenging and important recruiting season of his career. He needs to hit this recruiting season out of the park. He needs to take this recruiting kickoff and take it back to the house. He must grab this recruiting basketball, take off from the free throw line, jump over a Subaru and dunk it while wearing a Superman costume.
In short, he needs a mid-major world class recruiting class. He needs something like Ault and his staff accomplished in 2006 when they somehow lured the likes of Colin Kaepernick, Dontay Moch, Vai Taua, John Bender, Virgil Green, Chris Wellington, Ryan Coulson, Kevin Grimes, Adam Liranzo, Courtney Randall, Jonathan Amaya, Kevin Basped, Mike Gallett and Brandon Fragger to northern Nevada.
That's the type of class Polian needs this February to justify his existence at Nevada.
Forget the fact that Polian's first official recruiting class at Nevada last winter didn't exactly hit the ball out of the park. He hit a couple of singles and maybe a ground rule double or two. And he somehow got on base a few times on errors. The supposed great recruiter that came to save Nevada in January gave us, well, a very Ault-like recruiting class.
But that was probably because a large chunk of the class belonged to Ault and his former staff. Polian only had about a month to recruit last year. He didn't really know what he needed to win at Nevada. He could barely spell Nevada last year, let alone preach the benefits of the university to recruits. After he showed them a photo of Kaepernick wearing his No. 10 silver and blue jersey, well, he was tapped out on his Nevada-specific recruiting pitch.
This year is different. Polian actually knows where Cashell Fieldhouse is located and where the Fremont Cannon used to reside. He's done television commercials telling everyone that Nevada is a hidden gem. He knows that this is a roster that needs a major overhaul.
And he already has his recruiting speeches ready.
"Going 4-8 won't hurt us (in recruiting)," Polian said. "Clearly, 8-4 would be better. But 4-8 isn't going to affect us. We're at the point where the players that have sincere interest in us recognize that we went through a big transition this year with a new staff. They know we have great tradition here. They know we're not a program that has been 3-9 for a lot of years. They know what this program has done."
What this program has done, unfortunately, means nothing anymore. That's what 4-8 does to you. It wipes out your history. Recruits only know what scrolls at the bottom of the screen on ESPN. And what scrolled at the bottom of the ESPN screen this season connected to Nevada wasn't all that flattering. The past, after all, didn't help Chris Tormey. It also didn't help Polian this year.
Polian, though, has even figured out a recruiting sales pitch that uses a 4-8 season as a positive. "I think we've already proven that we will play freshman," Polian said. "They (recruits) can look at us and know that they have a chance to play right away."
This guy is good. We'll find out just how good on Feb. 5.
All Polian has to do the next two months is what he does best. He has to sell himself or some fantasy version of himself that he has created for job interviewers. It got him the job at Nevada. Now we'll see if it gets him players at Nevada.
"Whenever you do a job for the first time there are always self doubts," Polian said. "You ask yourself, 'Can I do it?" Well, now, most wholeheartedly, I know I can do it.'"
Well, at least he knows. That's a start.
His job, now, is to get the recruits to believe it.
His job depends on it.