Like father, like son: getting to know Bill and Brian Polian

NOW: Like father, like son: getting to know Bill and Brian Polian


ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. – "I was drawn to coaching because I love the relationships with the young people and that's probably the reason why I have been a fairly effective recruiter in my time because I just love those relationships."

Notre Dame Special Teams Coach Brian Polian has been coaching college football for 25 years.

10 -- with the Irish.

Brian says it's the relationships with the players and staff that keep him coming back for more.

"It was always a part of my DNA, but that was just my make up.”

Brian grew up in NFL stadiums - watching his dad, Bill Polian, a Pro Hall of Fame executive with a career spanning nearly 35 years.

"I started going to Buffalo Bills training camp when I was 13 years-old and my summer job was to be a ball boy with Jim Kelly, and Andre Reed, and Thurmon Thomas, and Bruce Smith, and I grew up in that locker room.  Learned some things a little earlier than I needed to in terms of my development as a young man (laughs)." 

Dad, Bill, began his career with the Buffalo Bills in 1984 as Pro Personnel Director and quickly was promoted to General Manager -- helping lead the organization to 3 straight Super Bowl appearances,  earning him the title of NFL Executive Of The Year twice.

But as busy as his job was, he made spending time with his wife and four kids a priority.

"We were together for the full month of vacation, nobody went to camp or anything like that. It was all family time," said Bill.

Growing up in that professional football environment played a huge role in Brian's life.

"My sophomore, junior and senior years in high school, I took a week off in January to go to the Super Bowl. Now, unfortunately, we lost, but I think the thing that stuck with me growing up was watching the heart break of losing Super Bowl 25. I was on the sideline, I was there. My brother was there. My dad had come so far, from a high school teacher and coach in the Bronx. To the General Manager of a Super Bowl franchise, to miss the kick and suffer that heart break and then to watch he and Coach Levy. I could see it hurt him, but the way he stood up and raised his chin and handled the adversity and answered all the questions. He did not let that loss and the subsequent two, define him as a person as a professional."

Bill would move on to become the GM and President of the Indianapolis Colts, drafting eventual Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning with the first overall pick of the 1998 draft.

And in 2006, Polian's Colts won the Super Bowl XLI.

"That was like the greatest thing ever to witness that and to see that moment for he and my mom," said Brian.

"All of the good teams that I was with throughout my career, all had one thing in common, that's whether you were a player, coach, front office person, clerical worker, it didn't matter. We were all a team,” said Bill. “We were all in it together. And the word team means, 'Together Each of us Achieves More.' And so, we're all in the same boat. Some have to row bigger oars than others, that's the players and coaches, but we're all in the same boat, we all have a job to do and when we win, we all win together."

In 2015, Bill was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"When I got the call I was shocked beyond words,” said Bill. “But I learned that really the impact is more on the family than it is on you.  Whether I was in the Hall of Fame or not, I knew that I had a good career. and I'd gotten really all I could out of it and I was blessed to be in it."

"But, the effect on the family was amazing.  And you figure out rather quickly that that's what that honor is for. For the family, for your close friends, for the people who help you along the way.  They enjoy it every bit as much or more than you do."

Now in retirement, Bill can sit back and enjoy watching his family take the reins in football.

Brian's brother, Chris, is in the NFL as the Director of Pro Personnel for the Washington Football Team.

And his youngest brother, Dennis, is the Football Chief of Staff and Senior Associate Athletics Director at Baylor University.

"Every once in a while, they'll call and say, 'What about this? What about that?' and I try to pass along whatever help I can, but they have their own lives to live and their own careers to pursue,” said Bill.  

Whether Brian or any of Bill’s children followed in his football footsteps never really mattered.

"The most important thing, as my wife always says, she looks at them and says we've been blessed because we have four children who are great parents and great people and that's all you can ask for in life," said Bill.

And it's the title of 'papa' that he's enjoying most.

"God's way of making old age easier is to give you grandchildren,” said Bill. “They make the sunshine every day. And watching their games is 10 times more nerve wracking than watching my own team."

Allison: "When you look back at your career, is there anything that you hope is a legacy that you leave behind?"

"I think your record is what it is,” said Bill. “But, I think the people that you worked with, if they take away something positive from your experience and they say Bill said this, Bill did that or Brian did this, Brian did that. If they benefit from the experience then it's been a successful career. That's what it's about. Helping people be better.”

Brian says that bond he has had with his father shaped who he is today.

"That relationship has defined me as a man, as a husband and a father and defined me as a professional and not many people get to say that about their dad. So, it's been a blessing.”

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