From 1998-2010, one man made all football operations decisions for the Indianapolis Colts.
Every draft pick, every free agent signed, every roster move made had to have the approval of one Bill Polian before it happened. It was his vision of the team and its roster that contributed to eight seasons of twelve wins or more, eight division titles (one in the AFC East, seven in that AFC South), two Super Bowl appearances, and one Super Bowl victory.
However, in 2011, Bill Polian's vision is not the one guiding this franchise. He alone isn't making decisions on the roster. As of the moment it was announced Bill was no longer the team's president but was, instead, the team's 'vice chairman,' (a title even team owner Jim Irsay seems to find odd) the torch was passed from father to son.
Today, according to Jim Irsay, via Clark Judge at CBS Sports, it's team general manager Chris Polian calling the shots for the Colts:
"This is a very natural process," said Irsay, "and it's a seamless transition. No question, Chris is doing the heavy lifting and the details, but Bill is still involved in special projects on things I define or on things with the league.
"Bill is going to give his input, and he and I 'pow-wow' on the highest level of issues, but really it's Chris' time to move forward and make his mark. He's very good at what he does, and he's prepared -- someone who always wants to get a lot of feedback from Bill and me. It's not as if he's some Lone Ranger trying to get out there and do it. Bill and I know it's his time to implement his vision. And that's a good thing."
The Polian is dead. Long live the Polian!
Obviously, I'm not saying Bill Polian is physically dead, nor am I saying he has been fired, terminated, toss aside, or thrown out with yesterday's trash. But, the speculation we've been chatting about for some time (that Chris was now making the decisions on the team's roster, not solely Bill) was confirmed in Judge's article. Chris Polian is now setting the 'vision' for the franchise going forward, and Bill Polian is less involved in roster decisions than at any other time during his tenure in Indianapolis.
For me, and for Clark Judge, the 'changing of the guard' was evident in how the Colts drafted in 2011.
First of all, look what they did in last month's draft: They added high-profile protection for their most valuable asset, quarterback Peyton Manning, by choosing tackles with their first two picks. Now, look how they did it: by breaking from a long-standing tradition. Boston College's Anthony Castonzo was the first offensive lineman chosen in the first round by the Colts since team president Bill Polian assumed command in 1998.
Prior to, during, and after the draft, we noted that the team press conferences involved Bill, Chris, and Colts director of player personnel, Tom Telesco. This was a major shift from previous years, which saw Bill, and only Bill, as the singular authoritative voice of the team when meeting with the press during the NFL Draft.
From the Judge article, the role Bill has taken now is as a sort of mega-consultant.
"Bill is involved in a real sort of way," said Irsay, "just not as much. I think he's getting more time to be with [his wife] Eileen and the grandkids and to get away more. I will identify certain projects for him to work on a little more specifically -- some 'macro' projects that are important to the franchise -- where he can focus on some of them more and not be spread out as he might have been five or 10 years ago. It works well that way, and I'm always cognizant to make sure it is working."
But all the decisions on draft picks, on who to target in the draft, on trades, on free agents... all that is Chris Polian now. Oh sure, he'll consult with his old man, but if it is truly Chris' vision guiding the franchise, then he's the one making the calls.
Thus, from this moment forward, personnel decisions (both good and bad) get tagged to Chris, not Bill. This is a transition all of us have been anticipating for some time. Hopefully, Chris will have even better success than his father. I say 'better' not because Bill Polian sucked as a talent evaluator, but because something that is 'new' doesn't mean we fans can't hope for even better things.
As for how long ole Bill will stick around as 'vice chairman,' who knows? He's one a three-year deal with Irsay, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Bill retire after 2011, especially if the lockout cuts the legs off the NFL.