Even with all the knocks against him, it's unfortunate for Bill Polian that he had to go out the way he did. Had Peyton Manning played this season he probably would have retired a Colt and been celebrated both around the league and in Indianapolis. Maybe though, the Colts 2-14 was a blessing in disguise.
Bill Polian was a great GM. In fact he was the best, winning NFL Executive of the Year six times. No other general manager/vice chairman can claim such repute. Unfortunately, Bill had a shortcoming: nepotism, particularly when it came to his son.
Promoting (or pushing Jim Irsay to promote) Chris to GM was the downfall for both Polians. Since Chris assumed the role in 2009, the Colts organization and front office has suffered turmoil unlike it had in the previous decade and as a result the underpinnings of what the father had built began to unravel. Long time Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore was phased out in 2009/2010.
So too were preeminent and long time running backs coach Gene Huey, offensive line coach Howard Mudd, personnel consultant Dom Anile and director of college scouting Mike Butler.
Would the coaches have made a difference and prevented the Colts from sinking to 2-14? Likely not by much. Without Manning the Colts were doomed. But guys like Anile and Bulter could have made a difference in the scouting department and bolstered the overall depth and talent of the roster through the draft.
Regardless, in attempting to leave his mark on the team, Chris Polian had begun to change the character of the entire franchise. That his father endorsed his moves, sealed Bill Polian's fate. The prospect of Chris Polian in control was too much for Jim Irsay to handle. It was a departure from a winning formula and one that didn't sit well with an owner or a fan base who had enjoyed a decade of consistency and success.
If Bill could have remained while Chris was forced out (obviously not possible), that would have been ideal, because regardless of his personnel flaws or his disparaging treatment of the media, Bill Polian is a great GM and built one of the greatest teams of any decade.
Polian will leave Indianapolis with the following credentials and having been involved in the following decisions:
- Having won a Super Bowl
- 2 AFC Championships
- 10 Playoff appearances in 13 seasons
- The drafting of Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf
- The drafting of Edgerrin James over Ricky Williams
- The drafting of All Pros Jeff Saturday, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne and Bob Sanders
- The hiring of Tony Dungy
Was Bill a the nicest guy or even most professional? No. Whether it was his disrespectful treatment of fans and fellow employees, his abuse of the media or his general brusque manner, he was never going to win the 'good guy' of the year award. He didn't really need to, because year after year he got it done.
Many people would argue that Bill's legacy has become increasingly tarnished since the 06 season, particularly when it came to scouting and the drafts. Perhaps such critics are correct if you were to compare the Colts recent drafts to their stellar hauls of years prior. But it's hard to say that a draft class of Donald Brown, Fili Moala, Jerraud Powers, Austin Collie and Pat McAfee or finding Pierre Garcon in round six in 2008 are total busts.
Ultimately, fans turned on Bill not because poor drafts but rather grew tired of his relentless contempt for even his mildest of detractors, particularly his rant on the fans following his ill-fated 2009 decision to rest the starters.
Even the outrage that Polian caused during the Colts Super Bowl run could have been overcome if not for his unabashed family nepotism. Whether it was this year or the year following Peyton's retirement, you just had the sense that while Irsay was incredibly loyal to Bill, he nor anyone in the Colts organization felt such similar sentiments with Chris. With Chris increasingly running things at West 56th Street, it was time for a change. After nine 10-win seasons, Irsay needed an excuse. There was no way firing the Polians was justifiable so long as the Colts were winning. So perhaps 2-14 was a blessing in disguise.
As happy as some people with the news of his dismissal, Colts and fans owe a great deal to Bill Polian. He made our franchise relevant again and presided over a decade of winning. He may not be missed personally, but his impact on the Colts is undeniable.
Whoever replaces Pollian will have big shoes to fill.