If the special teams’ play continues to plague the Notre Dame football program into the 2017 season, it won’t be due to lack of experience from its leader.
The Fighting Irish officially announced Tuesday the hiring of former Notre Dame special teams coach Brian Polian to resume coaching the position group once again.
“I’m thrilled about the opportunity to return to Notre Dame,” Polian said in a release. “This is a very special University and football program. I want to thank (Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly) and (Irish athletic director) Jack Swarbrick for the opportunity to re-join the Fighting Irish family.
“Laura and I are looking forward to coming back to this wonderful community. I’m excited to go to work, get to know the terrific student-athletes and prepare for a great 2017 season.”
Polian coached the same group with the Irish from 2005 to 2009 and has also worked with special teams for eight other seasons at four different institutions. He spent the past four seasons as the head coach at Nevada. He'll have a lot of experience to work with next season, as Notre Dame did not graduate any of its special teams leaders.
Kicker Justin Yoon will be a junior next fall, while punter Tyler Newsome is a redshirt junior-to-be.
Returners Chris Finke (redshirt sophomore next season) and junior C.J. Sanders also add experience from this past season.
The Notre Dame kicking game was solid this season, but the return games struggled with performance and consistency. Sanders struggled most notably against Miami (Fla.) when he fumbled a punt inside his own 10-yard line which led to a Hurricane score.
Notre Dame also made a gaffe in that game when its young players simply stood and watched a Miami on-side kick roll past the allotted 10 yards and the Hurricanes pounced on it.
Kelly said afterward "that's on us to do a better job of making certain that (freshman Jalen Brown) knows what to do."
“Brian not only brings a successful history of coaching special teams, but he’s also considered one of the nation’s top recruiters,” Kelly said. “He simply understands Notre Dame, what it’s about, and the type of student-athlete that we need to succeed at the highest level. I’m extremely excited to have Brian join this program, and our players will benefit from his mentorship, passion, energy and enthusiasm - both on and off the field.”
Under former Irish coach Charlie Weis, Polian earned a number of honors as one of the top recruiters in the country and was a nominee for the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Assistant Coach of the Year in 2008.
His special teams units set a number of school records and the Irish went to a pair of BCS bowl games.
In 2008, Polian guided the Notre Dame kickoff return defense to a nation leading 16.47 yards per return off of 59 kickoff return attempts. In fact, only one FBS school since 2003 has posted a better kickoff return defense with at least 59 kickoff return attempts.
While with the WolfPack, Polian had some degree of success on the field and an impressive list of achievements off of it.
Polian led Nevada to consecutive bowl games in 2014 and 2015, including a victory in the inaugural 2015 NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl, which was just the fifth bowl win in school history.
He guided Nevada to 22 wins, 26 individual All-Mountain West honors and unprecedented amount of academic honors.
Nevada had 41 student-athletes earn Academic All-MW honors in his tenure (2016 honors have yet to be announced), two National Football Foundation (NFF) Hampshire Honor Society members and a NFF National Scholar-Athlete, which is the most prestigious scholar-athlete award in college football.
The Wolf Pack, which had a program-record 21 student-athletes earn 2015 Academic All-Mountain West (MW) honors, also recorded a program-best combined GPA of 3.05 in the 2015 spring semester.
Nevada registered a 7-6 overall record (4-4 mark in Mountain West play) in 2015, marking consecutive seasons Polian led the Wolf Pack to a winning record.
In 2014, Nevada registered a 7-6 record and returned to a bowl game, playing in the 2014 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
The Wolf Pack defeated Pac-12 foe Washington State, as well as scored impressive road wins at BYU, Hawaii and San Jose State, and capped the regular season with a dominating win at UNLV.