- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
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Football is in Brian Polian's blood. Always has been and probably always will be.
His father, former longtime NFL executive and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian, tried to talk Brian out of venturing into football for a career. But it was too late. The impression the sport and the men who were involved with it had made on Brian was too strong. So by the time Brian graduated from John Carroll University in Ohio, he knew that football was how he wanted to spend his career.
It was hard not for the game to have an impression on him. Most of his formative years were spent in football locker rooms and stadiums. When his father was with the Buffalo Bills, he got to watch Marv Levy coach and Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Steve Tasker and guys like that play the game. So after concluding his college career at John Carroll he pursued coaching.
After graduating, Polian joined the staff at Michigan State as a graduate assistant for a season then over the next 14 years went from coast to coast coaching college football with stops at Baylor, Buffalo, Central Florida, Notre Dame and Stanford.
Now, the 37-year-old is in College Station as the special teams coordinator and tight ends coach for Texas A&M. Here's some more insight into Polian from GigEmNation's Q-and-A with the veteran coach:
SK: What drew you to Texas A&M?
BP: "Kevin (Sumlin), quite frankly. I mean it's not like I left a bad place. Stanford is a very unique school to work at. The people there are fantastic, the kids are great and it's one of the nicest places in the country to live. But I met Kevin four or five years ago when I was coaching at Notre Dame. We developed a friendship and I think so much of him as a person. And frankly, he's a little different in the sense that we're in a business where often head coaches, they're not really interested in helping you achieve your goals. I want to be a head football coach in Division I college football. Kevin knows that, he embraces it. He's been a great teacher for me just in the short time that we've been together. He's going to help me along that path. If it's next year or 10 years down the road, who knows? But my experience with him will make me better when I finally get my opportunity.”
SK: Outside of your family, who has had an influence on you in football?
BP: "Marv Levy, first and foremost because in my formative years I watched him so closely. I had a front row seat to how he ran the organization in Buffalo. Tony Dungy, another one that I've never had a chance to work alongside, but I had access that some other people wouldn't necessarily have had in Indianapolis and he's become a friend and mentor, as has Jim Caldwell. My position coach at John Carroll University, a guy by the name of John Storey, who is a legendary high school coach in Cleveland and then became an assistant at Carroll. He was a great influence on us. London Fletcher from the Redskins, Elvis Grbac, Desmond Howard, he coached all of them in high school. He's a storied Cleveland guy and is somebody that I'm very close with.
SK: Give me a sense of what you learned during spring football and what you have to work with when it comes to your special teams units.
BP: "I don't think Kevin told me Randy Bullock was graduating (laughs). He forgot to mention that one. Unfortunately, we have to answer questions at all three of the specialists spots: the punter, the kicker and the holder. The punter I know, they were a little bit up and down last year -- two different guys punted. We don't want to do it by committee, plus we're going to be a little bit different compared to what they did the year before. So we've got to get those questions answered. And obviously, we're replacing the Lou Groza Award winner. And we do have a guy here on scholarship, Taylor Bertolet, but we have two other guys that are joining the program as a walk-ons (Davis Plowman and Seth Hiddink) and hey, it's a production-based business. You either do it or you don't and we're going to give all three guys a chance to win the job. Whoever the best guy is, that's going to be the guy that kicks."
SK: How do you feel about the return game?
BP: "I'm excited about it. You could see a young guy back there on kickoff returns. You could see a freshman, because we brought in some speed. I'm not afraid of a freshman kickoff returner. We've had that before. We had that at Stanford last year with Ty Montgomery who was a Dallas kid. So I'm not necessarily afraid of a freshman kickoff returner. Punt returner is a little different. You'd like to have a guy back there that has a little experience. Dustin Harris is obviously pretty good and has been productive, but we feel like we've got some other vets who look really comfortable catching the ball back there, so that's not necessarily etched in stone either. I'm excited to find out what freshman we recruited that are going to have a role somewhere on special teams. Jordan Richmond, Trey Williams, Mike Richardson, we've got some good-looking bodies as freshmen and we're going to need some of those guys to contribute for us and they're going to have to help us as core special teams players. And to be honest with you, that's part of what makes my job fun. I don't look at the same eight faces every day of the season. At some point, I'm going to engage just about everybody on the football team and that's a lot of fun. So we'll see what young guys we're going to get into the mix and we're going to figure out what veterans will make up our core 8-10 guys that will show up on most of these units.
SK: What's your feel on the coverage units and how those will shape up for you?
BP: "We're going to put the best guys out there. If you're going to see starters playing on (special) teams, you're going to see them on the coverage units, because that's the stuff that'll get you beat. The layperson says 'Who's really good on special teams? Well this team blocks punts and this team has returns for touchdowns.' Our first job is to not lose the game. That's our first job. Our first job is to win in the coverage units and make sure that we don't give up the big play. Our second job is to make our field goals and extra points and to be trustworthy that if it's fourth-and-6 on the 28 or 30-yard line that we can feel confident that we can knock the three through and win the game when we have to. Our last job is to be productive on the return units. Not to say that we don't want to be, but if we're not doing those first two things, we're costing our team ballgames. We've got to cover kicks, we've got to change field position and we've got to score points."
1dSam Khan and Greg Ostendorf
4dSam Khan Jr.