LAKE FOREST — Carlos Polk wasn’t sure if he should be in a good mood or a bad one Thursday as he left the Chicago Bears’ practice facility after his first season as an assistant coach with the team.
“I mean, it was a good season as far as I got to come home, and I love this staff,” said Polk, the 45-year-old former Guilford High School star. “And the team really showed us some things. It was disappointing in other ways, too. We didn’t want that record, that’s for sure. But seeing how the guys played, how hard they fought, and the progress they made, that what the key.”
Even though the Bears won just three games and had the worst record in the league, Polk was upbeat and confident.
“I want to be here. This was like a homecoming for me,” Polk said. “It’s an exciting time in this organization, and I want to be part of it.”
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Polk played seven seasons for two NFL teams (San Diego and Dallas). He worked with Bears’ first-year head coach Matt Eberflus when they were both at Dallas and this season worked under special teams coordinator Richard Hightower. Together, they took a young group that included an NFL-high 18 rookies and turned them into a top 15 special teams unit.
After four stints of assistant special teams coaching in the NFL, Polk relished the chance to coach closed to his Rockford roots where his mother, aunt and plenty of former teammates and coaches still live.
“This was my hometown team, and it brought with it a lot of special feelings just to be back,” Polk said. “This year I never had enough tickets, and I was seeing family members I hadn’t seen in a long time… It was great.”
Polk’s climb to the top
As Guilford’s star senior linebacker back in the 1990s, Polk racked up an incredible 152 tackles to go along with 13 sacks, three fumble recoveries, three blocked kicks and an interception. He finished with 453 career tackles and 30 tackles for loss in high school.
He went on to star at Nebraska, where he won a national championship in 1997. He posted 32 tackles and a sack as a redshirt freshman that season, playing a lot of special teams to start things off.
He became a starter at middle linebacker for Nebraska as a junior, tallying 83 tackles, and 90 as a senior. He finished his college career with 227 tackles, 14th all-time in school history, and was later inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
Polk was drafted in the fourth round of the 2001 NFL draft by the San Diego Chargers, and in 2002 was voted by teammates as the Special Teams Player of the Year. He led the Chargers with 13 special teams’ tackles that year, and hauled in his first NFL safety and first blocked kick. He was voted as the team’s co-Special Teams Player of the Year in 2003.
He signed with the Dallas Cowboys in 2008 and finished his career there after some shoulder injuries.
That’s when he shifted his focus to coaching.
“I’ve always known the importance of special teams, and I’ve always been able to teach it,” he said. “I just feel blessed that I’ve been able to find teams that need me.
“Like anybody in this spot, I would love to be a head coach in the NFL someday. That’s the dream,” Polk said. “But right now, I just want to do my job as well as I can, and I would love to run my own special teams’ unit in the NFL. I just have to keep working hard, and keep riding this wave.”
Polk’s coaching timeline
2009: Began coaching career at Grossmont College (El Cajon, California) as assistant special teams coach.
2010: Hired by the San Diego Chargers as assistant special teams coach.
2013: Hired by the Dallas Cowboys as a coaching intern under head coach Jason Garrett.
2014: Hired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as assistant special teams coach.
2019: Returned to the Dallas Cowboys as assistant special teams coach, reuniting with Garrett. (Was not retained by new head coach Mike McCarthy in January 2020.)
2021: Hired by the Jacksonville Jaguars as assistant special teams coach under coordinator Brian Schneider and head coach Urban Meyer.
Feb 11, 2022: Hired as the assistant special teams coach by the Chicago Bears under new head coach Matt Eberflus and special teams coordinator Richard Hightower.
Jan 8, 2023: Bears finish up first season with Polk as assistant special teams coach with a 3-14 record.
Jay Taft is a Rockford Register Star sports reporter. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @JayTaft. Sign up for the Rockford High School newsletter at rrstar.com. Jay has covered a wide variety of sports, from the Chicago Bears to youth sports, since the turn of the century at the Register Star, and for over 30 years all together.