By Chris Boline
Taking over someone else’s team is not an easy task, but for a man with no prior head coaching experience, it could have been a lot worse.
Brian Polian’s first season in “The Biggest Little City” was one that a lot of people would like to forget, but at the same time served its purpose as a stepping stone for a football program with a bright future. While the head coach would have certainly liked to beat rival UNLV or maintain the bowl appearance streak all of the blame does not fall on his shoulders. Polian did an admirable job in nearly every game this season, but inexperience and a rash of injuries limited what the Pack could do. Of course, wiping this year under the rug would be easy enough, but doing so would mitigate the growth and learning curve of this program.
This year’s 4-8 mark will most likely be looked at by the student body at large as a failure. It’s hard to argue against that record when it is just thrown out there, but a deeper look into the schedule will reveal that the Pack was battling uphill for nearly the entire year. In addition to playing its Mountain West conference foes, Nevada had to contend with UCLA and Florida State at the beginning of the year. Even though the Wolf Pack was blown out of both games, they still managed to hang around, and even lead, against the national championship contender Seminoles for 10 minutes in Tallahassee. Going deeper into the schedule, Nevada beat a team they fell to last year (Air Force) and another that ended Fresno State’s BCS hopes (San Jose State).The only real game that Nevada should have easily won was against the Rebels; however, after eight straight seasons with a blue cannon UNLV had to win sometime or else it isn’t really a rivalry.
The ability to “finish games” this season was as a popular a term this season as “team mullet.” The Wolf Pack’s main flaw this year is something that can only be taught by experience, and hopefully heartache as well.
Nevada’s ability to get out to a hot start only to wane in the closing quarters was a huge dilemma during the year, but with a team that had 16 true or redshirt freshman playing over 3,800 snaps on the year, it is to be somewhat expected.
I’m not a fool, but expecting the Wolf Pack to be successful with a new head coach, a patchwork offensive line, a nicked-up quarterback and a young defensive backfield would be a little naive. However, Nevada becoming the worst rushing defense in the country was unexpected, but with the experience gained by young players such as defensive end Ian Seau and linebackers Jordan Dobrich, Jon McNeal and Matt Lyons, this should improve dramatically next season.
Polian’s first season didn’t end in disaster, the loss to BYU showed flashes of what Nevada is capable of —namely, a strong passing attack (259 yards) , stellar ball control (18:47 time of possession in the first half) and the ability to put pressure on electric signal-callers (98 passing yards) — Polian even said that the last three weeks of practice were the best of the season for Nevada. However, all of these help only to a certain extent.
Without wins, the coach is going to be not good enough for the fans and the unthinkable might happen: Reno will want Ault back. However, in the unlikely event that things do not get better in year two, Polian will still be able to build a program that in his image for future years. The coach was given an incredibly difficult task of leading a team in his first season with limited resources, and he pulled off his share of upsets.
Optimism is something that I am extremely fond of. Nevada’s circumstances (lowest budget in the Mountain West in a city that is known more for its quickie marriages than its football) are difficult, but give Polian another year or two and the results will start to come.
The head coach even admitted that he needs to get better at many things, which I’m sure many of us can agree with about our own lives. Too bad, it’s transparent enough for 450,000 people to make judgments about you.
Chris Boline can be reached at email@example.com.