Week Two is too early for homecoming games, but for two coaches whose teams face long odds of winning, Saturday marks a return to familiar territory.
Craig Bohl is in his third season at Wyoming. His Cowboys will be playing at Nebraska – his alma mater and former employer.
Nevada coach Brian Polian grew up a Notre Dame fan and was an assistant coach for the Irish during the Charlie Weis
Error Era (2005-2009). The Wolf Pack visit South Bend Saturday and will face an Irish team still stinging from their double-overtime season-opening loss at Texas.
If either Mountain West Conference team emerges victorious, it will be a huge upset. Neither coach is concerned or focused on returning to a bullet point on their resumes.
“I learned a long time ago that it’s about the players and staying focused on the task at hand,” Bohl said. “A lot of my colleagues are probably in the same situation I’m in, and you get to be pretty darn compartmentalized. That’s the real focus.”
Bohl grew up in Lincoln and played for the Huskers. He went on to become an assistant coach, and in 2000 he replaced the legendary Charlie McBride as defensive coordinator. Unfortunately for Bohl, that was about the time Nebraska started to fall from dynastic to dysfunctional.
After the 2002 season, Frank Solich fired Bohl and two other defensive assistants. A year later, Solich was dismissed. Bohl, though, went to North Dakota State and won three consecutive FCS national championships. It turned out that the blueprint used by Tom Osborne to make Nebraska a national power traveled and translated to the next rung down on the college football ladder.
Bohl’s success brought FBS job offers, but at programs where the chances to win were slim and none. When Wyoming came calling, he believed moving from one Western outpost to another was the right move.
Ironically, there’s a historical connection between Laramie and Lincoln. Bob Devaney, the coach who started Nebraska’s amazing run of success in the 1960s, came to the Huskers after coaching the Cowboys.
If there were doubts about Bohl’s coaching ability when he was fired 14 years ago, they have been erased, but Jeff Jamrog, who was on the Nebraska staff with Bohl, doubts his former co-worker harbors bitterness toward his alma mater.
“He’s long past it,” Jamrog said. “Initially if you lose your job, there’s anger. But you have to get past that quick. It’s a job where most people move on. I don’t think Craig lives in the past. The success he’s had alleviates some of the feelings, too.”
Polian, the son of former NFL executive Bill Polian, has had two high-profile coaching stops after leaving Notre Dame. Before taking the job at Nevada in January 2013, he coached at Stanford and Texas A&M, but he is thankful that his first coaching job came at Notre Dame.
“I grew up as a kid, and Notre Dame was my team from the time that I was a small boy,” Polian said.
“My dad took me there when I was 13 or 14 years old for a Notre Dame-Penn State game. I had a Notre Dame Starter jacket – one of those awful-looking, satiny Starter jackets.”
Last season, Nevada played at Texas A&M and lost, 44-27. Polian believes his team will handle and enjoy the experience of playing in South Bend.
“There’s a difference between being excited about it and enjoying the opportunity and looking forward to it and being intimidated by it,” he said. “I mean, there were 102,000 people in the stadium at A&M last year. Our guys hung in there and fought their tails off, and I have no reason to believe that we won’t do the same thing this week.
“Who doesn’t want to play under the shadow of Touchdown Jesus? You’d be nuts if you didn’t.”
He also knows how difficult it is for a visiting opponent at Notre Dame. At his news conference this week, he opened by referring to the season-opening victory over Cal Poly and said, “So, we’re on to Notre Dame Week. We obviously prayed…”
He meant to say “played” but then acknowledged the slip by saying, “Fitting, given our opponent.”