Less than 24 hours after a season-ending loss at Jacksonville gave Indianapolis the No. 1 pick in April’s draft, Irsay fired the team’s vice chairman and general manager and decided to keep coach Jim Caldwell at least until he finds a replacement for the father-and-son team.
“It was a very tough decision for me,” the Colts owner said Monday. “I had a chance to talk to them both, I had a chance to express to them, and Bill in particular. You know how hard it was and the appreciation the franchise has for all that has been done by Bill, and obviously, him and I go back 30 years. So this is difficult, this is the tough part of this business.”
For more than a decade, the Polians and Irsays seemed to operate in lock step.
Irsay sided with Polian after the 2001 season when the then team president and coach Jim Mora clashed. He thought enough of Chris Polian to begin the transition from father to son and he repeatedly supported Polian publicly even when fans were unhappy with Polian’s decisions and reactions.
“I’m grateful for all the support the fans have shown us in good times and bad,” Polian said in a statement issued by the team. “Indianapolis has been a wonderful place to live and work. Most of all, I would like to thank the players, coaches and staff who have played the pivotal role in this magnificent journey. I will miss them all.”
Nobody ever doubted how much influence the elder Polian had on the game or the Colts.
He helped create the league’s salary cap structure and was a longtime member of the league’s rule-making competition committee.
He was the architect of four Super Bowl teams in Buffalo, the rapid ascension of Carolina’s expansion team and the Colts’ resurgence. Six times, he was named NFL executive of the year by The Sporting News. He drafted the Colts’ career leaders in passing (Manning), rushing (Edgerrin James) and sacks (Dwight Freeney), and the No. 2 receiver in franchise history (Reggie Wayne). His teams won two Grey Cups in the Canadian Football League, played in eight NFL championship games and five Super Bowls, and the 10-game improvement from 1998 to 1999 set a league record. In 2006, Polian finally got his elusive Super Bowl ring.
Manning missed the entire season with a neck injury after signing a five-year, $90 million deal in July. The Sept. 8 procedure was his third neck surgery in 19 months, and the Colts went through three different quarterbacks before getting their first win.
Players also became increasingly dismayed by the comments Polian made on his weekly radio show. The most vocal critic was Manning, probably the only person in the organization with more leverage than the team’s vice chairman.
When Polian told listeners that he and Manning had discussed drafting his eventual successor and that Manning was “OK” with it, the four-time league MVP later said he and Polian had never discussed the 2012 draft and it would be inappropriate for him to have those discussions. Just before Christmas, Polian told reporters that Manning would fail his season-ending physical, too. Following Sunday’s 19-13 loss, Manning said: “That’s news to me.”