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UCLA-Nevada Preview: Wolf Packs’ Coaching Staff and Special Teams

Notes on Nevada’s coaching staff and special teams.

Brian Polian has prepared himself well for a head coaching opportunity in the NCAA
Brian Polian has prepared himself well for a head coaching opportunity in the NCAA
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Let's continue to build on IE Angel's excellent scouting report on Nevada (you can check out lot more notes on our game hub here). In this post we will focus on the team's staff and special teams. After 28 years of great run under Chris Ault, the Wolf Packs have a new guy at the top. Nevada hired Texas A&M special teams coach Bill Polian to succeed Coach Ault (who BTW is part of the Bruin family as he is the father-in-law of none other than Coach John Savage).

Per SBN Polian is "considered to be one of the best recruiters in the nation" and he comes into the program with some serious NFL bloodlines:

Brian Polian is the son of current ESPN NFL analyst Bill Polian, who served as an executive for the Indianapolis Colts for several years.

Under Polian in 2012, Texas A&M converted 59% of their field goals and 90.5% of points after touchdowns. Meanwhile, the team averaged 43 yards per punt. The Aggies also returned one punt for a touchdown.

Polian has prepared himself well for this opportunity per Mark Schlaback of ESPN:

Polian has prepared the past 15 years to walk the sideline as a head coach and he'll get his opportunity when the Wolf Pack open the season at UCLA on Aug. 31. After playing linebacker at John Carroll University, Polian worked as a graduate assistant for Nick Saban at Michigan State in 1997. After working as an assistant at Buffalo in 1998, Polian spent the next two seasons as a graduate assistant for Kevin Steele at Baylor, where he earned a master's degree in education.

Along the way, Polian was determined to create his own identity, instead of riding the coattails of his father and older brother. Chris Polian was general manager of the Colts from 2009 to 2011 and is currently director of pro personnel for the Jacksonville Jaguars. His younger brother, Dennis, is a special assistant to Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak.

"I'd be naive to think my dad's relationship with Nick Saban didn't help me get a job," Polian said. "But from that day forward, I built my career on my own name. To be frank, that's what I'm most proud of. I've never worked in the same organization with my dad or brothers. People that doubt that can go back and look at my track record. I've been with some bad football teams. I love my father and he's been the single most important influence in my life. But I've done it on my own, and I'm really proud of that."

Well, he seems to have certainly paid his dues. He is also smartly holding on to Coach Ault's offensive coordinator - so that the Wolf Packs' can keep running that legendary "pistol" offense (well it's legendary around this part because of all the wrong reasons, even though it's been fun to watch as a pure CFB junkie when Coach Ault's program has run it recent years) and have a sense of stability in the program:

Polian isn't interested in completely rebuilding the Nevada program that Ault built during his 28 years as head coach. He'll keep the Pistol offense that made former Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick a household name. Last season, Kaepernick led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl while running a version of the Pistol offense.

Polian was able to retain offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich, who helped junior Cody Fajardo become one of the country's most efficient quarterbacks last season. Fajardo completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,786 yards with 20 touchdowns, while running for 1,121 yards with 12 scores in 2012.

While Nevada's offense has been prolific in recent years, they have had defensive issues. And Polian tapped North Dakota's Scott Hazleton as his defensive guru. As noted by our SBN guru Bill Connelly in his awesome Nevada primer:

Polian tapped Scottie Hazelton, most recently the defensive coordinator at North Dakota State (2010-11) and linebackers coach at USC (2012), to head his defense. Hazelton experienced serious success at NDSU, but he inherits a unit that is experienced up front (where it was pretty awful in 2012) and nearly devoid of experience in the back seven.

Well, we will see how he schemes against Mazzone right off the bat this Saturday.

Given that Coach Polian was a special teams coach, no surprise that the Wolf Packs are putting a lot of emphasis on this unit. The Wolf Packs have a pretty good punter in "linebacker-looking" senior Chase Tenpenny (6-foot-4, 250 pounds):

Tenpenny, who transferred from Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College in 2011 and redshirted that year, had one of the best seasons in Nevada history in 2012. Because of Nevada's prolific offense, he did not have enough punts to qualify in FBS or Mountain West Conference stats (46 punts in 13 games), but he still averaged 43.3 yards per punt, fourth best in school history and on pace to be the second-best career average.

But their kickers are question marks:

As much of a known factor that Tenpenny is, kicker Brent Zuzo is an unknown. Zuzo, a 5-10, 175-pound true freshman from Canton, Mich., won the placekicking duties ahead of Colin Ditsworth in training camp. Ditsworth backed up Allen Hardison in field goals and PATs last season and was the kickoff specialist.

"He's got a live leg. He really does have a live leg. You can see it in his kickoffs," Polian said of Zuzo. "I'm just worried he's a freshman. But, shoot, you gotta play. It's time to go. That's why we recruited him, why we scholarshipped him. We know there will be growing pains. It comes with the territory when you play young guys."

Apparently Nevada also struggled last year in getting touchbacks on kickoffs as Ditsworth got only 29 touchbacks in 78 KOs (even thoguh the KOs were moved to the 35 from 30). No doubt UCLA coaches are going to take note of that and hopefully guys like Manfro, Perkins and maybe even Myles Jack (?!) will be able take advantage. Can't wait to find out how it unfolds on Saturday.