In a surprise move that is not without merit, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay has fired Vice Chairman Bill Polian and Team President Chris Polian. The future of head coach Jim Caldwell is unknown at this time. Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com was the first to report the story.
"It was a very tough decision for me," Irsay said in a Monday press conference. "I had a chance to talk to them both, express to them, Bill in particular, how hard it was and the appreciation the franchise has for all that's been done by Bill. This is difficult. This is the tough part of this business."
Though he built the Colts team that won 10 games or more every season but one from 1999 through 2010, Polian's record in recent drafts had been spotty at best. In the Colts' last five drafts, the best players were running back Donald Brown, linebacker Pat Angerer, defensive back Jerraud Powers, receiver Austin Collie, and linebacker Clint Session — hardly a frontline starter to be seen in those drafts, and more was expected from Polian the Elder given his reputation.
"I'm grateful for all the support the fans have shown us in good times and bad. Indianapolis has been a wonderful place to live and work," Polian said in a brief statement. "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."
[ Related: Colts lose to Jags, win No. 1 pick in draft ]
When quarterback Peyton Manning was lost for the 2011 season with a neck injury that has required three surgeries in the last 18 months, the Colts backslid to the worst team in the NFL. The only upside to their 2011 season was that they are in line for the first overall draft pick in 2012 and will likely select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, seen to be the most sure-fire quarterback prospect to come out of college since Polian drafted Manning in 1998 with the first overall pick.
I'm very surprised and shocked,'' Manning said in a telephone interview with the Indianapolis Star. "I don't want to speak for Bill, but I did meet with him and he is (shocked) as well. It's a sad day and it's the worst part about this business. I'm sorry that it went down this way.'
That pick was the fulcrum of the Colts teams Polian built, and to his credit, he was the mastermind who took a formerly dormant franchise into the 21st century with a fantastic model of success. From 1998 through the early 2000s, his moves — picking Manning, trading Marshall Faulk for picks and drafting Edgerrin James in his place, the hire of Tony Dungy, and the creation of a receiver corps and pass defense that set the tone in many ways for the NFL at that time — were almost unilaterally positive.
Before his tenure with the Colts, which began in December of 1997, Polian was the very successful personnel man behind the rising fortunes of the Buffalo Bills teams that went to four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s, and the Carolina Panthers teams that were perhaps the best expansion units in league history. He has been named the NFL's Executive of the Year six times — in 1988, 1991, 1995, 1996, 1999 and 2009.
But in the end, the decision to move forward was Irsay's. "On major issues for the franchise, and it's been this way always, that I have final say on them," he said. "That's the way it has to be."
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