By Neil Patrick Healy
All rise. Department one of the Sagebrush Supreme Court is now in session. The honorable Judge Neil Patrick Healy presiding.
The trial conducted before this court of The People v. Brian S. Polian began nearly four months ago. The facts of the case have been intensely deliberated, the evidence has been well documented and arguments of counsel have been concluded.
As the court examined the details of this case, the prosecution, representing concerned members of the Nevada fan base, brought charges against the defendant that the head football coach for the University of Nevada will enter the fourth year of his contract with the football program on the proverbial “hot seat” and is coaching for his future. The defense, representing Polian, has argued that putting Polian on the hot seat is irresponsible and would show negligence in the athletic department.
The prosecution’s case against the defendant is indeed a compelling one that cannot be overlooked. Polian enters the 2016 season with a losing record of 18-20 and an 11-13 record in Mountain West Conference play. In his third season as head coach of Nevada, he led a disappointing 6-6 regular season campaign that included losses to Wyoming and UNLV, two teams with a combined five wins. The prosecution has made a point to emphasize that two of those five wins came against the defendant. A third loss suffered by the defendant took place on Nov. 21 in Logan, Utah, where his team gave up 24 unanswered points and relinquished a 20-point lead in the early stages of the third quarter.
The prosecution has shown little to no faith in last season’s starting quarterback, Tyler Stewart, who only threw for 2,065 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The questions surrounding the program outnumber the answers, which is never a sure sign of the stability one wants in a functioning and competitive program. The most damning evidence presented against the defendant is the $10,000 fine levied upon Polian after his reprehensible actions that took place on Sept. 12. Polian received two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties while arguing with the officiating crew during the 44-20 loss against the University of Arizona.
The final piece of evidence presented was, in the court’s opinion, the most interesting. The X-factor in this case is Nevada Athletic Director Doug Knuth. Knuth, who was hired by the University of Nevada after the hiring of the defendant, could potentially be put in an inopportune position with regard to the defendant’s future. If Polian suffers similar struggles in the upcoming 2016 season, Knuth will have to decide between terminating his contract or extending said contract beyond 2016. In regard to the highly competitive landscape of college football, the most important aspect is the ability to recruit high-quality athletes to attend your institution. If the defendant goes into the fifth and final year of his contract with no set course for his future, the quality of recruits that the program can attract will instantly diminish. Knuth can either terminate the defendant’s contract or give him an extension. No program can have its head coach in a state of limbo and expect to compete at the highest level.
The defense has countered with the notion that putting the defendant on the hot seat is a reflection of unrealistic expectations by the fan base, and that it is unjust to put the defendant in a position of coaching for his job due to the program that he represents. The defense has further asserted that the evidence of lack of success had by the defendant is insufficient considering the recent postseason victory.
Polian is the head coach of a program that is largely underfunded compared to its rivals in the Mountain West Conference. The Nevada Wolf Pack’s annual athletic budget is $27.3 million, which is 11th out of the 12-team conference. Only Utah State has less funding annually. With the average annual budget in the Mountain West being around $38 million, the defense has made the argument that expecting more success with less funding is unreasonable and that the job performed by the defendant is adequate enough to keep his job secure for the 2016 season.
The defense has also argued that the on-field product has shown signs of improvement from the defendant’s first year to his third. In his first season, Polian went 4-8. The two following seasons he finished with a 7-6 record, qualified for two straight bowl games and won the program’s first postseason game since 2010. The defendant led the Wolf Pack to a 28-23 victory over Colorado State in the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl and finished 2015 with two running backs (Don Jackson and James Butler) finishing the season with over 1,000 yards rushing. The Wolf Pack finished 25th in the nation in rushing and finished 40th in pass defense. The defense made it clear to the court that the defendant inherited a program that has ranked in the top 50 in pass defense only twice since 2004. In that same time frame, the Wolf Pack finished below the top 100 in pass defense five times. The program’s historical Achilles heel has been made into a position of strength and optimism.
The defendant also brings back ample talent into 2016 to solidify his future with the program. Butler, the 1000-yard running back, enters his junior year as the number-one option with an offensive line that brings back every starter from 2015. Returning starters in wide receivers Jerico Richardson and Hasaan Henderson along with tight end Jarred Gipson should bolster the offense. All showed the ability to make plays, but the lack of an effective passing game limited their potential. Polian has made the necessary moves to improve the offense by hiring Tim Cramsey to take over the duties as offensive coordinator. Cramsey served as an offensive assistant at the University of New Hampshire under current 49ers head coach Chip Kelly and spent three years as the offensive coordinator at Montana State. While Cramsey was calling the plays, the Bobcats ranked third in the FCS in scoring offense by scoring 41.9 points per game. The defense believes that with all the evidence considered the defendant is on the right track to build upon the success he has had thus far.
After all closing arguments have been heard, I do not find sufficient evidence to put the defendant on the hot seat entering the 2016 season. The case of the defense shows that the defendant is under the employment of a program that is not the opportune place to achieve ample success quickly. It is this court’s belief that the defendant will not be labeled “on the hot seat” this offseason. However, the arguments of the prosecution have been duly noted. The surrounding circumstances, along with the reprehensible actions that took place against Arizona, do show possible turmoil. I therefore say that the defendant, Brian S. Polian, will have the label of sitting on a “warm” seat until further notice. If the results of the 2016 season do not stay true to the case of the defense then the evidence will be presented once again, in which time this court will reconvene.
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NP_Healy.