Fourteen seasons under Bill Polian saw the Colts draft Peyton Manning, win eight division championships, make the playoffs 11 times and get to two Super Bowls.
But that era ended Monday, in the form of a 37-minute news conference, during which Colts owner Jim Irsay announced he had fired Bill Polian as vice chairman and his son, Chris, as vice president and general manager.
It was a very tough decision for me, Irsay said in Indianapolis. I had a chance to talk to them both and express to them – Bill, in particular – how hard it was and the appreciation the franchise has for all that has been done by them. This is difficult.
On Sunday, the Colts completed a 2-14 season, worst in the league, less than two years removed from their Super Bowl loss to New Orleans.
Even though the Colts played this season without four-time MVP quarterback Manning, who had three neck surgeries in the span of 19 months, Irsay called it a sharp decline that necessitated the firings.
There is a great loyalty in this business, Irsay said, but when I walk into the locker room with my team on Sundays, I need to make sure the circle is the best for this team to win. Sentiment can’t come between that. This was a difficult decision but it was time. It was the right decision to make.
Irsay said Bill Polian, 69, will unquestionably be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday.
He has been selected as NFL Executive of the Year six times. He guided the Buffalo Bills to four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s, helmed the expansion Carolina Panthers to quick success and won a Super Bowl with the Colts after the 2006 season.
This season, Chris Polian, 40, had taken over many of the personnel decisions, which included the ill-fated three-game experiment with Kerry Collins at quarterback, the poor play with Curtis Painter as his replacement and an overall lack of consistency in every facet of the game except kicking and punting.
Irsay has yet to contact any possible candidates for the vacant general manager position, and he said a hire may not come for weeks.
It’s a new era, Irsay said. We’re moving into exciting times, by my estimation.
While he would like the new GM to be in place before a decision on the coaching staff is made, Irsay said he wouldn’t hesitate to make a coaching move that he considers best for the franchise. That could include firing Jim Caldwell and his staff, though, Irsay said, Caldwell could very well be back this year.
Caldwell is 26-22 in three regular seasons and 2-2 in the playoffs since replacing Tony Dungy.
But there are three Super Bowl-winning coaches out there – Bill Cowher, Brian Billick and Jon Gruden – and former Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who would seem an especially good fit since he’s a former division rival. There are already five head-coaching vacancies around the league.
The Colts have the top pick in the upcoming draft and the opportunity to select Stanford’s Andrew Luck, considered by many to be the best quarterback prospect since John Elway in 1983. Before the draft, though, the Colts must decide whether they will pick up a $28 million option on Manning.
On major issues for the franchise, and it’s always been this way since Bill (Polian) has been here, I have final say, Irsay said. When it comes to picking a head coach or picking a first-round draft pick, when it comes to some of those major decisions, it’s always been presented to me, This is what we’re thinking and it’s your call.’