Brian Polian worked just one season under Nick Saban but he still refers to him as “Coach.”
Polian, who is entering his second season as the coach at Nevada, got his first big break in coaching when he was hired as a graduate assistant at Michigan State for the 1997 season. A linebacker at John Carroll — a Division III school in Northeast Ohio — Polian was hired shortly after his graduation to work with the Spartans’ offensive line and tight ends.
One lesson Polian gleaned from his experience with Saban remains a fixture in how he approaches his job today.
“The first thing you learn with Coach is that there’s exactly right and there’s wrong,” Polian said Monday on Bruce Feldman’s FoxSports.com podcast “The Audible.”
“When you’re given an assignment, when you’re given specific instructions about how something is done, it’s either done perfectly or you go back and fix it. While that can sound like a hard approach to things, in reality, it was a great learning tool and a great lesson in the sense that you’d rather take your time on the front end to do everything exactly right as opposed to having to go back and continuously fix things.”
Polian was a graduate assistant alongside Mel Tucker, who has been a defensive coordinator in the NFL for the past few seasons. Other GAs during Saban’s time at Michigan State, such as Adam Gase (offensive coordinator, Denver Broncos) and Josh McDaniels (offensive coordinator, New England Patriots) have found similar success.
Polian said it didn’t matter which specific position the graduate assistant was assigned to help. Saban was “ever-present” in all three phases of the game and involved in all of the position groups’ meetings, he said.
“You were off and running,” Polian said. “Whoever was in earshot was the person sprinting to get it finished.
“For that to be your first experience, there were a lot of lessons I took away from it.”
Check out the rest of Feldman’s interview with Polian.