In many ways, the unsung "super star" of the Indianapolis Colts is President Bill Polian. While Peyton Manning is the band leader, with Dwight Freeney on guitar, Jeff Saturday on drums, Adam Vinatieri bouncing' on bass, and Reggie Wayne working the saxophone, the quiet band manager standing in the back of the auditorium (sunglasses on, working the cellphone for the next big venue) is Bill Polian. Just as the Beatles would not have existed in our collective cultural consciousness without late-manager Brian Epstein, the Colts would not be the gold standard of the NFL if not for Bill Polian. Ex-Colts coach Tony Dungy gets a lot of well-deserved credit for building a mediocre-to-good team into a powerhouse, but just as deserving is Bill Polian.
You will sometimes read the occasional "Polian is pissing me off" rant here because, quite honestly, Bill Polian is horrible when it comes to promoting his team. He doesn't understand new media, like the "Internets," blogs, and such. He is cryptic and overly secretive in his press conferences. He seems to have total and complete contempt for the press and media in general. I sometimes wonder if Polian would prefer not having to do press conferences, open practices, or interviews at all. As a PR front man, he epitomizes the cranky old man screaming "Get off my lawn!" stereotype most frequently associated with him.
As a general manager, no one in this league rivals Bill Polian. No one.
I used to say that Scott Pioli and Ossie Newsome were his equals. I don't believe that anymore. Polian has eclipsed them. Pioli won his Super Bowls with the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick at his side. There was also rampant cheating going on in the organization, and Pioli had to know about it (yet did nothing). Since we all agree that cheating taints any and all accomplishments, I simply do not trust that Pioli, Belichick, and the Patriots would have won as much as they did had they not cheated. The sad truth of it all is the cheating likely wasn't necessary.
Pioli is now rebuilding the Kansas City Chiefs, and he will likely do a great job there (as he did in New England, sans cheating). But Bill Polian has built not one, not two, but three NFL franchises. Advantage: Polian.
The same standard could apply to Ossie Newsome with the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore was a great team for only two years (2000-2002). But, from 2003-2008, they hovered from medicore to bad. They missed the playoffs in four of the last seven seasons, and last year was the first time the team had won a playoff game since 2001. Newsome has done an especially good job recently, hiring John Harbaugh and drafting Joe Flacco, but when you compare his overall accomplishments with what Polian and the Colts have done (six straight years of 12 wins or more), and it isn't even a contest. Advantage: Polian.
As the Colts enter their post-Tony Dungy era, the focus for Polian and crew is to soldier on with a new coach, a trimmed-down scouting department, and an uncertain labor future. Not an easy task. Plus, when you consider the problems this team faced last season, and the way Polian seemed to toil night and day to fix them, I think Bill got shafted when he did not receive his 4th NFL Executive of the year award for 2008. No other GM in this league could have weathered the injuries and distractions the Colts weathered.
For this reason, and others, PFW's Matt Sohn decided to give Big Bill a little love:
If the Colts live up to expectations, there’s a good chance that the most worthy MVP will be team president Bill Polian. While Polian’s been held in high regard throughout his 11-year tenure in Indianapolis, his finest roster-shaping work may have occurred this offseason. Re-signing CB Kelvin Hayden was the splashiest transaction, but creating the cap space — aided by an unexpected cap bump — to re-sign C Jeff Saturday could have the bigger impact in ’09. The Colts gained 45 more yards per game in the 12 outings in which Saturday appeared than in the four in which he was sidelined in ’08. Perhaps the savviest decision of all was not tendering restricted free-agent LBs Tyjuan Hagler and Freddy Keiaho, despite pressing needs at the position. Polian correctly estimated that they wouldn’t generate much interest on the open market, and he was subsequently able to re-sign them to deals that will still enable Indy to sign all of its rookies.
There is also the draft, which provided much needed depth at defensive tackle. Also, taking Donald Brown should go a long way to making Indy's offense even more explosive. Re-signing Ed Johnson was another shrewd move. Johnson has Pro Bowl potential, and is the kind of guy that can thrive in a structured environment.
Polian has worked hard this off-season to provide new coach Jim Caldwell with a better team than the one Tony Dungy brought into the 2008 season. For that, Big Bill deserves some love... even though he can be a gruff old canker sometimes. But, at least, he's our gruff old canker.