Mediocre seasons evoke Polian Purgatory | NevadaAppeal.com

Mediocre seasons evoke Polian Purgatory

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .

The Nevada Wolf Pack football teams needs to win its bowl game to prevent this season from being the worst of coach Brian Polian’s three-year career. Polian’s first team in 2013 went 4-8 but played a devastating schedule and really lost only one game (UNLV) that it should have won. The Pack went 7-6 last year, beat UNLV, Washington State and BYU and went to a bowl. This year, though, includes two ugly losses to bad teams (UNLV and Wyoming) and a horrific loss at Utah State after leading 27-7. A loss in the bowl will give the Pack a three-game losing streak to end the year for the first time since 2004 and a dismal 6-7 record during a year when eight or nine wins was more than realistic.

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This Wolf Pack football team has never played a solid 60 minutes from start to finish in any game this year. Even the wins (UC Davis, Fresno State, Hawaii, New Mexico, Buffalo, San Jose State) were filled with mistakes and ugly moments and when those games were over the best you could say about the Pack was that they survived. All you have to do at Nevada to last three decades as head coach is dominate the bad teams. We don’t ask much out of our football teams. Just some nice weather in which to drink beer in the parking lot and some cannon-exploding wins over all the bad teams, especially UNLV. That’s it. Chris Ault did it for 28 years. The Pack hasn’t really destroyed anybody (by 30 points or more) since whipping Hawaii 69-24 in Ault’s final year in 2012.

“Don’t be shocked if the Pack quietly opens up the quarterback competition once again this spring and summer.”

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Blame this year’s Pack football underachievement on the offense. This, so far, is the first year since 2000 that the Pack has not scored at least 40 points in a game. Just two of Ault’s teams (1979, 1980) failed to score at least 40 points in any one game. Most of his teams (24-of-28) did it at least twice in a year. Ault coached 343 games in his career and his teams scored 40 or more points 107 times (winning 101). The Pack this year also had its worst rushing game (35 total yards against San Diego State) in the 11-year, 149-game pistol era. How do you get just 35 yards with two 1,000-yard running backs (James Butler, Don Jackson) in your backfield? All of this mediocrity on offense got offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich the head coaching job at Hawaii. Go figure.

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Losing Rolovich might be the best thing to happen to Polian since he’s been at Nevada. It’s not because Rolovich was a bad offensive coordinator. He was, well, OK. He certainly never lived up to his hype and never really seemed to grasp all the possibilities of the pistol offense. Under Ault the pistol always seemed to add a wrinkle or two and get better every year. Under Rolovich the pistol just sort of treaded water. It was a six-shooter with never more than three bullets available. But Rolovich did help Polian ease into his first head coaching job and that was important for a special teams coach getting a job he really wasn’t qualified to take. But losing Rolovich now could be a good thing for Polian. He now doesn’t have to run Ault’s offense (or a bad imitation of it like this year), at least not 100 percent of the time. Polian can now put his own stamp on the program in a meaningful way and not just with new helmets, uniforms and lockers. Polian at least deserves the right to shoot his own pistol into the air as he rides out of town.

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How close is Polian to getting booted out of Nevada? Not very close at all. Yes, if the Pack finishes with less than six wins next year and doesn’t get another bogus bowl invitation, then athletic director Doug Knuth would be justified in making a change. But the Pack plays another easy schedule next year (like most years) and should be able to just fall out of bed (like this year) and win at least six games. The Wolf Pack, it seems, is stuck in Polian Purgatory.

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The question Knuth must ask himself is how many six and seven-win seasons can the Pack and its fragile (disappearing?) fan base survive? This year will be the fourth in the last five. That’s the problem of Polian Purgatory. You can’t fire him when he wins six or seven games and goes to a bogus bowl and you really don’t want to give him a lengthy contract extension. You are stuck in mediocrity mud, spinning your tires.

But Knuth, we learned in March when David Carter won nine games, is extremely quick to pull the trigger on a coach when the opportunity arises. But, keep in mind, it really is never about wins and losses when coaches get fired. That’s just the excuse to tell fans and the media. It’s about selling tickets. There’s no secret that Polian has lost the confidence of Pack fans. Mackay Stadium got awfully quiet after the loss to UNLV back in early October. If we have to sit in another Mackay Mausoleum next year we could see a change next December, with or without a bogus bowl game.

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How good is this Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team? The Pack is 5-2 and is clearly better than a year ago. But when you go 9-22 that isn’t saying much. We’ll find out a bit more about this team Saturday afternoon when they play at Oregon State. The Beavers are 5-1 but they haven’t beaten anyone (like the Pack). They do, however, have one of the best guards on the West Coast. Gary Payton, the son of the former NBA All Star of the same name, averages 16.5 points and 8.2 rebounds and has 21 steals. The graduate of Spring Valley High in Las Vegas (2011) was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year last year and will be one of the best all-around players the Pack faces all year. He’ll be a nice test for Pack guards Marqueze Coleman and Lindsey Drew. A win will go a long way toward building the Pack’s confidence.

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Confidence, though, is not a problem for this team. This is a team that is just enjoying winning right now and it really doesn’t matter where the wins come from. They beat Division II Holy Names on Monday and acted as if they had just gotten an invitation to the NCAA tournament. But that is OK. This is a program that has gone through a lot of tough times lately and they deserve to feel good about themselves. Coach Eric Musselman, it seems, is all about building confidence in young men. When you are 5-foot-nothing and weigh a hundred-and-nothing and try to make your living telling young men twice your size what to do, well, you better not lack for confidence. If you built a Confidence Hall of Fame you’d make Musselman part of your first group of inductees along with Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and a young Tiger Woods. Confidence has been Musselman’s greatest contribution to Nevada so far. He’s changed the culture in less than 10 games.