Brian Polian has plenty of reasons to feel ties to New Orleans, but he felt the Steve Gleason statue outside of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome summarizes his story perfectly.
At Wednesday’s media day, Nevada’s second-year coach said he was so busy preparing his team for Saturday’s New Orleans Bowl that he never got a chance to walk outside and see it. But he made it clear how important it was for him to view the monument to the former Saints player.
Polian said Gleason, who has ALS, was a player he admired because of his determination.
“I want to get out and see the statue of Steve Gleason,” said Polian, who was a special teams player at John Carroll University. “I have an aunt that I lost to ALS that was near and dear to my heart. I’ve been a special teams guy my whole career. I knew Steve Gleason when he was a player and how good a special teams guy he was.”
Polian, the son of six-time NFL executive of the year Bill Polian, loves his family, but also takes pride in the fact he has had to work hard throughout his career and never worked for his father or any other of his family members.
“I love my father dearly, but I am very proud of the fact that I have never worked for him,” Polian said. “So anyone that says I shot up the ladder because of my last name never read my bio. I’ve been in some rough places. I have grinded it out as a special teams coach, which I am very proud of.
“I have been blessed with this opportunity. We’re just trying to do the best we can with it.”
If you were to take a look at Polian’s biography, you would see stops at Michigan State (with Nick Saban), Baylor, the University of Buffalo and Central Florida before he got his big break to coach special teams at Notre Dame (for Charlie Weis) in 2005. He followed that with stops at Stanford (under Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw) and Texas A&M (under Kevin Sumlin).
Polian’s first experience in the Superdome came on the 2007 Notre Dame team that faced off with LSU in the Sugar Bowl. He said it is an experience he will never forget.
“I believe we were in the first Sugar Bowl in the Superdome after (Hurricane) Katrina,” he said. “Although I’m not from here, I have a great appreciation for the city and the area.”
Two years later, Polian said he officially thought he shed the tag as “Bill’s son” for the first time.
“I thought it was when I recruited (San Diego Chargers linebacker) Manti Teo,” Polian said. “I was able to get a kid to come from Hawaii all the way to South Bend, Indiana. That’s when everyone just started referring to me as ‘Brian.’ ”
In 2013, Polian was hired to be the head coach at Nevada, but his first year was a struggle, going 4-8, and the Wolf Pack failed to make a bowl game for the first time since 2005. Nevertheless, the players trusted their coach’s blueprint would be successful eventually, and Nevada went 7-5 this season.
“I think his growth has been tremendous,” senior linebacker Jonathan McNeal said. “It took him a little while to get used to the team, and it took us some time to get used to him as well. Now you can see how much of a better feel he has for the team and for us as players.”
Polian said he wanted let his players know the historical relevance of the Superdome and how much it meant to him.
“I made sure I talked to the players just so they could be aware about all the stuff that has happened in this place,” Polian said. “All the history and the Super Bowls and the Final Four’s, I mean this is one of the great venues in American sports.”