The Indianapolis Colts, as we have known them over the past decade, have gone away just like 2011 has. Vice Chairman Bill Polian and General Manager Chris Polian have been relieved of their duties with the Colts, announced by owner Jim Irsay Monday afternoon. Irsay said it was time for a "new era" in Colts history.
It was the perfect time for this to happen, and it was really the only choice for Irsay to make.
If you've been around Stampede Blue at all during the season, you know that we've been advocating for these changes to be made most of the past three months. It was clear then that a change in direction was needed, but to see it come true gives us hope that Irsay has what it takes to lead the Colts back to the Super Bowl. We've talked about the numerous reasons throughout the season why it needed to happen, but I think there are three main reasons the move was actually made Monday:
Keeping the Polians now means keeping them for at least 3-5 years - With what Irsay is calling a "rebuilding" time for the Colts, it would not be fair to the GM, no matter who it is, to let them go without seeing some of the rebuilding through. If Irsay wanted to stay the course that the Polians were going, it would have to be in multiple years, especially with all the holes the Colts had exposed after this season. The timing is right for a move like this.
- The Polians had lost the locker room, including Peyton Manning - There was a tweet today from Terre Haute Tribune-Star writer Tom James, suggesting this was the case:
General feeling is that Bill Polian lost the locker room. Players stood up and continue to stand up for Caldwell. Not so much for Polian.If you throw in all the media back-and-forth between Bill and Manning over the details of his rehabilitation, one can see the writing on the wall that their relationship wasn't quite the same as it once was. Now, Manning had very nice things to say about Polian today after he learned of his firing, which everyone should expect from him. Manning, more than anyone, knows that every word he says will be parsed to death, so he's never going to bad-mouth anyone publicly and directly. Polian was also responsible for giving him a chance in the league, and they worked together for 14 years, so I don't think Manning hates the guy at all. I just think Manning suggested to Irsay that he needed to choose between him and the Polians, and Irsay made his decision. Irsay may be without both going forward, but it's clear he would want the chance for Manning to return over having the Polians lead his team.
As for all the other players, I still think it goes back to Week 16, 2009, when Irsay's "football people" made the decision to sit the starters against the Jets, ending the perfect season they had going. Irsay mentioned it unprompted during the radio show Monday night, which means it is still a point of contention. The other thing that makes me think this was such a big deal is all the talk from the players about how much they wanted to win games at the end of this season. Players want to win every game, regardless of the future implications. They want to win each "battle", then regroup after it is over and try to win the next one. Polian kept them from doing that two years ago, and it seems a good number of them never forgave him for that.
- Irsay wanted Bill to fire/demote Chris, and he wouldn't, so they are both gone - Here's why I think this is the case: If Irsay just wanted Bill to step aside, he could have asked him to retire, which I'm sure Bill would have, as Irsay mentioned during his press conference that Bill was close to retirement anyway. Add in all the praise Irsay gave to Bill today about all the great things he did and the appreciation the Colts have for Polian, and it seems that if Bill was the only problem, there was an easy solution.
As pointed out by 1260AM Radio Host Jake Query Monday, what happened the last time Polian wanted Jim Mora to fire Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio? Polian fired both of them. Remember how Chris was a "toxic force" inside the organization, according to Bob Kravitz of the Indy Star? Now, I don't believe Irsay took Kravitz's words as gospel, but he clearly reads what Kravitz writes if he responds to him via Twitter, and had a subtle dig at Bill for the way he reacted to it. Irsay said during his press conference that he "knows everything that goes on in his organization", so it's possible he read the article, talked to the people in his organization to see if what was written was really the case, and acted accordingly.
Many think that Chris only got the position because of his dad, and it'll become clear this offseason how the rest of the NFL views Chris in terms of job offers. I think Irsay let Chris make the Front Office personnel changes he had made over the past two years, firing and re-assigning several guys that had worked for Irsay for 20+ years, but after the debacle of the 2011 season, Irsay was holding him accountable. I also found it very telling that Irsay barely mentioned Chris during his entire 45 minute press conference, even when asked directly about him. Also, Dennis Polian did not lose his job today, so he didn't completely gut the Colts of everyone named Polian. I actually think Irsay would have been ok keeping Bill on if Chris was demoted, but if I were in Bill's shoes, I couldn't have done that either.
These are the reasons why I think it happened, so why was the decision to go in a different direction the best thing for the Colts, and in turn, us the fans? The first positive has already happened, as Irsay made it a point to put the "Indianapolis Colts Season Wrap-Up" radio back on the Internet so Colts fans from all over can listen to it. For the past two years you could only listen to "The Bill Polian Show" over the air in Indianapolis, because that is the way the Colts wanted it. We know after today it was because that is the way Bill Polian wanted it. According to former 1070 The Fan Programming Director Kent Sterling, who works in St. Louis now and had some scathing words for Stampede Blue back after Week 16, 2009, told us recently that this post on Stampede Blue was the reason the feed was pulled from the Internet, depriving all non-local fans of listening to the show.
During the press conference today, Irsay talked about the fans being "stakeholders", and that he is active in finding out the views of the fans, including reading blogs. We've been told that Irsay reads our site, so I'm pretty sure he knows that Brad live-blogged the Polian radio show each week for everyone not in Indianapolis. It also seems he believes it's dumb to not have it broadcast to all Colts fans, no matter where they live. It's one of those changes that gives me hope that the Colts will now enter the 21st Century in terms of engaging with the fans. Simple things like having an Internet feed for the radio show, or maybe live-streaming press conferences during the week would be a huge step forward for an organization that didn't seem to care about its public perception. I think Irsay was OK to go along with it while the team was winning, but he knows that in today's day and age, the way Bill Polian treated everyone, whether it be team personnel, fans, players, etc. was not what Irsay wanted any more.
Irsay also mentioned that "14 years is a long time in this league", which it certainly is. While we can debate whether one truly awful season, without the greatest QB in league history, is enough to make a complete shift in the direction of the franchise, the run by Bill Polian with the Colts is one of the longest in the "Not For Long" league. It's naive to think that the next guy will come in, potentially with a new #1 overall QB, and win 12+ games for seven straight seasons. There's a reason nobody had ever done it more than three straight seasons, because it is extremely hard to do. But as we saw this season, and the fact that Jim Caldwell didn't also get the axe today, that the talent just wasn't there any more. With a rebuilding project on the horizon, fresh ideas seem to be what Irsay wants, and could bring a little more life to the organization.
Jim Irsay probably made the most difficult decision in his professional life today, and I commend him for making it, owning it, and not wavering one bit on it. It's the kind of decision that could cost him millions upon millions of dollars, depending on who he chooses to be his next General Manager. It became apparent to us back in early October that the best thing for this franchise would be to move on from the Polians, as they were a package deal. With the Colts now owning the #1 overall pick in the 2012 draft, and the strong insinuations from Irsay that a new Quarterback will be selected, now was the right time to give the Colts a clean slate, with a new person making the personnel decisions.
I'm now looking forward to the next four months much, much more than I was before. Bob Lamey noted Irsay's excited demeanor Monday night. The unknown can be very scary to think about. But I have to say, I'm excited to see what happens. It certainly makes me forget about 2-14 much quicker.