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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, March 30, 2017 6:30 am

Polian gives Irish hope for special teams

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND – Scott Booker's final year as special-teams coach at Notre Dame was not one for the books.

The Irish were an absolute train wreck, committing almost every mistake imaginable: fumbles, blocked field goals, blocked punts, touchdowns allowed, you name it. Some of the blunders could be attributed to youth, but many of them were mental mistakes or just plain sloppiness.

Well, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

New special-teams coach Brian Polian, who held the same position at Notre Dame from 2005 to 2009, said his top priority is to shore up the coverage teams and eliminate miscues.

"I like Scott Booker and respect him personally and professionally, so I'm not going to talk about things that happened before I arrived," Polian said. "Our job is do no harm, first. I want to make sure we are eliminating big plays before we start focusing on trying to make big plays. I want to cover kicks. I want to protect kicks. Then we will focus on our playmakers."

Spring practice on special teams has been geared toward fundamentals. Polian said he devotes 30 minutes daily to long-snapper John Shannon and punter Tyler Newsome.

"My ability to give them individual attention and work with them and work on skills and techniques with the specialists, I've seen a difference with Newsome and Shannon just in six practices," Polian said. "We've got some things straightned out with Tyler that I think are going to make him better. Those guys have taken to the coaching."

South Bend again "feels like home" to Polian, who was let go as Nevada's head coach after last season.

"To a degree that's almost a little scary," he said. "Whenever you start a new job, there's always anxiety with the change. This has been fairly stress-free for me personally. There's professional stress, but it has felt like home."

Polian talked about the differences between coaching special teams and being a head coach, mentioning that he always had to worry about 100-plus players every day at Nevada and other tasks like fundraising.

Polian's new boss, Irish coach Brian Kelly, said he's glad Polian returns with that perspective.

"Obviously as a (former) head coach he brings such a great perspective on the overall workings on a day-to-day basis in developing players," Kelly said. "He's charged with developing our entire special teams. It was the first decision that I made coming out of the gates (in the offseason), if you will, that I wanted to get Brian on. I wanted special teams to be addressed immediately."

In 2008, Polian was a nominee for American Football Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year.