Card welcome ST, DB assistant Brian Polian

New Stanford special teams coach Brian Polian is not D.J. Durkin, nor does he want to be compared to his predecessor: "I can't be anybody else; I am just going to do it my way," Polian said at Thursday's press conference.

Brian Polian is well aware of the success the Cardinal special teams unit enjoyed under Durkin. In 2009, Stanford ranked No. 3 in the nation in kickoff return average at 27.5 yards per return. That number was largely aided by the incendiary Chris Owusu, who finished fifth in the country with a 31.5 ypr average.

"I know they were pretty good on (special) teams because I had to prepare for them every year," Polian said. "There were things that Stanford did very well and there were things we felt we could take advantage of."

Polian and the Irish absolutely took advantage of Stanford's kickoff coverage during the Cardinal's 45-38 come-from-behind win last November. Theo Riddick humbled the Cardinal coverage for 122 yards on six returns (20.3 ypr).

"We are going to bring a lot of the same philosophy we had at Notre Dame," said Polian.

And that is not a bad thing. During his five-year tenure with the Irish as the special teams coordinator, Polian's unit was perennially one of the best in the country. Maybe not in the same special teams class as Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech or Skip Holtz and East Carolina, but still one of the elite.

In 2008, Notre Dame ranked No. 1 in the nation in kickoff return coverage (16.5 ypr). That same year the Irish allowed a meager 6.0 ypr on punts. Polian's punting crew finished in the Top 15 for two straight seasons (2006-07) and during Polian's overall campaign in South Bend, the Irish blocked a total of 23 kicks and returned five kicks for scores.

"We've watched him for three years at Notre Dame and they've gotten the better of us," Harbaugh said. "If you can't beat them, join them, so we're lucky to have Brian on board."

Polian is just as excited to be a part of Harbaugh's staff, admitting this is the first time he's ever had as much practice and meeting time devoted to special teams.

The 36-year-old Polian already has a head start on getting to know his player personnel. Cardinal kicker Nate Whitaker spent his first two collegiate seasons at Notre Dame as a walk-on. Polian said the relationship he already has with Whitaker has helped immensely.

"Having Nate as my ambassador to the rest of the team and helping in getting to know the other kids is huge," he said. "He's given me some insight on how things go here at Stanford before we even step on the field and that's been incredibly valuable."

Polian mentioned that he has been very impressed with the physical change he's seen in Whitaker since he was a freshman and is looking forward to working with him again, as well as his younger brother Eric.

One sector of the Stanford special team corps that was less than efficient during times last season was punting. The Cardinal placed four different players deep to return punts last season and that grouping finished No. 77 in the country in return average and second-to-last in the Pac-10.

Polian said the door was wide open for the starting punt returner job.

"We are going to start with about five guys back there," he said. "My first priority is identifying the guy who can catch the ball consistently."

In no particular order Polian listed the five possible candidates heading into the spring as Drew Terrell, Ryan Whalen, Chris Owusu, Tyler Gaffney and Doug Baldwin.

Polian recalled Baldwin's 38-yard punt return on the Irish during the 2008 season that set up a 10-yard scoring pass to Baldwin from Tavita Pritchard.

Aside from coordinating the special teams, Polian will also assist Derek Mason with the secondary and described his role in that department as "Derek's second set of hands."

Polian affirmed that every player on the squad has a fair shot at earning a spot on special teams.

"The beauty of the situation for me and every football player on this team right now is that I have no favorites. Nobody's in my doghouse, everybody's got a clean slate," he said.

Naturally, The Bootleg's one-on-one interview with Polian couldn't have concluded without inquiring about the influence his father, Bill, has had on his coaching career. Bill Polian is the president of the Indianapolis Colts and is a six-time NFL Executive of the Year award winner.

"I'm in a very fortunate situation where I have a dad, who is first and foremost a great dad and grandfather, but then I have this resource in my professional career who is an expert and has done his job at the highest level," Polian said. "I have been fortunate to have a handful of great mentors in this game but he is my biggest. He's always a good sounding board for me, somebody I trust implicitly."

Polian also said that the situation he has is somewhat amusing because his father always wanted to be a coach at the NCAA level.

"A guy that's won a Super Bowl and he's jealous of what I do," he laughed. "He at heart is one of us. He loves teaching guys, evaluating tape and being on college campuses."

Polian said he expects his father to attend at least a couple of Stanford games this season. When asked if his dad gave him any words of advice before accepting the position on the Cardinal coaching staff, Polian said he spoke with him throughout the entire process.

"He felt like if the opportunity presented itself to come to Stanford, live in this beautiful community and be with Coach Harbaugh, then I needed to jump at it," he said. "It's ironic, I think the first thing he did as the Colts general manager was release Jim.

"I asked him, ‘I hope you did it nicely so it doesn't come back to haunt me.'"

It appears no bridges were burned and the Cardinal faithful can look forward to continued success in the special teams phase of their football program.

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