LSU officially announced hiring now-former Notre Dame special teams Brian Polian to the same position on Brian Kelly’s first staff with the Tigers. Most Notre Dame fans weren’t overly upset about the loss of Polian on the staff, but one characteristic in particular that Marcus Freeman might want to look for in one of the soon to be open assistant vacancies is experience recruiting in Hawaii if the Irish hope to keep their recent Hawaiian pipeline open.
While some might have bemoaned Polian’s special teams coaching – specifically the punt return unit – over the years, one area that Polian excelled was on the recruiting front. He developed a specific niche for himself in recruiting Hawaii in particular. Polian famously visited the islands over and over in Notre Dame’s pursuit of Manti Te’o during his first stint with the Irish under Charlie Weis.
Once Polian returned to Notre Dame under Brian Kelly in 2017, the pipeline opened back up. Almost immediately after being hired, Polian went to work on Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa as part of Notre Dame’s late push for the class of 2017 that paid off dividends with MTA and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
Since then, Notre Dame has added linebacker Marist Liufau, ROVER Jordan Botelho, and linebacker Kahanu Kia all from the Aloha State. Even though Polian wasn’t the position coach for any of them directly, he was key in recruiting all of them, given the inroads and connections he has made in the state over the years.
There are just four players from Hawaii on the Notre Dame roster, but before Manti Te’o, Robby Toma, and Kona Schwenke during the Weis years, players from Hawaii were much rarer. Polian had a hand in recruiting them all.
Marcus Freeman has made it known that you have to be a relentless recruiter to be on his staff. Given the travel time alone, recruiting the state of Hawaii isn’t for the faint of heart. Given how many miles we have seen Freeman already racking up on the private jet, I have no doubt that Freeman will find his way to the Hawaiian Islands when called upon. Still, for Notre Dame to keep the Hawaii pipeline flowing, there needs to be an assistant on the staff dedicated (not full-time) to the region.
Part of why Notre Dame has successfully recruited kids out of sunny Hawaiian to snowy South Bend is because Polian made those connections over the years.
The hit rate on the players Notre Dame gets out of Hawaii has been pretty high. Te’o was a Heisman finalist. Toma was a quality receiver. Schwenke was a good defensive lineman who might have had a big 5th year had the staff at the time not had to burn a year on him his freshman season. MTA is a multi-year starter and captain. Liufau was primed for a breakout season before his injury. Both Botelho and Kia have flashed in limited action.
It’s not a requirement that whoever Freeman tabs to replace Polian or fill any of the positions that are still open after the bowl game have the same level of experience recruiting the islands as Polian did, but it’s still something to watch. I think a lot of Notre Dame fans who grew restless with Polian, who were celebrating his departure, might have forgotten how good of a recruiter he was and the Hawaiian niche he carved out for himself.