- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 4, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Bill Polian made one big mistake in Indianapolis: Not having an adequate backup for Peyton Manning.

It cost the Colts vice chairman and his son their jobs.

On Wednesday, Polian told The Associated Press that not grooming a replacement for the injured Manning was the primary reason the Colts collapsed this season, going from Super Bowl contender to the league’s worst record.

“I’ve always told the staff that our approach should be to hope for the best but plan for the worst, and I didn’t do an adequate enough job of planning for the circumstances we were in,” Polian said in a phone interview. “It led to this catastrophe.”

When asked if he was referring specifically to finding a backup for Manning, Polian said: “Yes.”

It’s the first time Polian has commented since he and his son, general manager Chris Polian, were fired Monday.

The longtime NFL executive revived the Colts’ brand name in two seasons, turning a moribund organization into one of the league’s model franchises. During Polian’s 14-year tenure, the Colts won 143 regular-season games, eight division titles, two AFC crowns and the first Super Bowl championship in the Indianapolis era.

Even all that couldn’t save Polian after a 2-14 record gave Indy the No. 1 draft pick.

“I understand what the dynamics are. So when you have the kind of season we had, there’s always some accountability and that includes me,” Polian said. “Was I surprised? No. The timing of it was a bit surprising, but not the end result.”

Manning’s neck injury changed everything.

The four-time league MVP never played after undergoing surgery Sept. 8, his third and most invasive procedure in 19 months. With Manning out, the Polians scrambled.

First, they brought 17-year veteran Kerry Collins, who Polian originally drafted in Carolina, out of retirement for $4 million. Collins didn’t last a month. Curtis Painter, Manning’s backup the previous two seasons, replaced Collins as the starter in Week 4 but struggled.

Still winless heading into December, the Colts finally turned to seven-year NFL veteran Dan Orlovsky, who ended a nine-game personal losing streak with two wins in five days just before Christmas.

But more could have and should have been done, Polian said.

“We probably could have straightened out the defensive situation a little earlier than we did, but that wasn’t critical,” Polian said, referring to the November firing of defensive coordinator Larry Coyer. “We needed to have a guy in place if Peyton had gone down and we didn’t. It wouldn’t have been a playoff season, I don’t believe, if we had. But I didn’t do it.”

The outside perception was that other factors played into Jim Irsay’s decision.

Some suspected the August acquisition of Collins didn’t go over well within the organization.

Others questioned Polian’s recent drafts, which produced little impact from former first-round picks Anthony Gonzalez, Donald Brown or Jerry Hughes until Brown’s late-season surge in 2011.

There was even a rumored rift between Polian and Manning, something Polian called “completely untrue.”

“He was the first person into the office after it happened,” Polian said. “There’s no rift at all. None.”

In fact, Polian said, the two were speaking in the training room about Manning’s offseason rehab plan when Irsay called him into the office. The two Polians then met separately with Irsay, and afterward, Bill Polian said, he and Manning talked for another 45 minutes. Polian declined to provide details of that discussion, calling it private.

Does Polian believe Manning will play again in 2012?

“I don’t know. I can’t answer that,” he said. “I recognize that’s been a frustration for fans, for you people in the media, and I wish I could have given you more concrete answers, but I just don’t know. I hope for his sake if he wants to play and the situation is right for him, that he can play.”

Polian’s influence hasn’t just been felt in Indy.

He laid the foundation Buffalo’s four straight Super Bowl teams. He took Carolina to the NFC championship in the Panthers second season. He helped devise the NFL’s salary cap, and has been a key player in reshaping many of the league’s playing rules.

Six times, he was chosen The Sporting News executive of the year.

Yet Indy was the only place Polian ever won a Super Bowl and, strangely enough, it was the worst season of his tenure that produced the proudest moment and biggest regret.

“You might think I’m proudest of the Super Bowls and all the playoffs, the division championships, but I’m really proud of the way the guys handled this season,” Polian said. “Regrets? I don’t have any regrets other than a 2-14 season.”

Colts fans might contend there should be one more regret on the list — not playing for the perfect season in 2009.

Polian disagrees.

“We just should have recovered the onside kick and not had the interception,” he said, referring to two plays in the Super Bowl loss.

He said he has no hard feelings about Irsay, and credited the Colts owner with giving him everything he needed to win. The two have been friends for three decades, and Polian said he would welcome Irsay attending the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony if he makes it.

For Polian, the hardest part wasn’t getting fired. It was seeing his son lose his job.

“The family part of it is the hardest part, whether it’s Chris or any of the people that are close to me,” he said. “Saying goodbye to people is the hardest part. When you’ve been here 14 years, you’ve built up a lot of relationships. I’ve told the players for years and years to prepare for life after football because this is a terminal profession for all of us and that’s true. But I’ve been far, far luckier than the vast majority of people. I’ve worked for a great person, a great owner in Jim.”

Polian said he hasn’t considered whether he will return to football, though he will try to help his son and others land new jobs.

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