Bill Polian is the President of the Indianapolis Colts NFL team. He rose to league prominence as the General Manager of the Buffalo Bills, building a team that participated in four straight Super Bowls. Following his stint in Buffalo, Polian went on to become the General Manager of the expansion Carolina Panthers, where his initial success in building what was arguably the most rapidly successful expansion team in NFL history led to his moving on to the Colts. He has won the NFL's Executive of the Year award 5 times (1988, 1991, 1995, 1996, and 1999).
Buffalo Bills Edit
Polian was General Manager in Buffalo from 1986-1993. "When Bill Polian was promoted to general manager of the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 30, 1985, the Bills were suffering from back to back 2-14 seasons and fan interest was at an all-time low. Polian had been with the Bills since August 2, 1984. He was originally hired as director of pro personnel. On February 7, 1985, Bills general manager Terry Bledsoe suffered a heart attack and Polian was named along with, director of scouting, Norm Pollom, to handle contract negotiations in Bledsoe's absence. Polian was instrumental in the signing of Bruce Smith to his first NFL contract. This impressed the Bills' hierarchy enough to warrant a promotion to GM, after the firing of Bledsoe, in 1985. The fans were not impressed with the promotion of Polian however. Most observers considered the move business as usual, on a 2-14 team.
Polian stated in his first press conference, "I know the NFL well, I know it's players, I think I'm prepared for the job." His statement proved to be true. Polian proceeded to build an NFL powerhouse. In 1986, Polian got USFL star Jim Kelly to finally come to Buffalo. He next hired Marv Levy to replace Hank Bullough as head coach. In the 1987 draft, Polian's skill as a GM was apparent as he "traded down" from the #3 slot in the first round to the #8 slot (linebacker Shane Conlon) and also aquiring the #36 slot, which was traded up with Tampa to select cornerback Nate Odomes. On October 31, 1987, Polian orchestrated one of the biggest trades in Bills history by acquiring linebacker Cornelius Bennett. In 1988, without the luxury of a first round pick, Polian drafted running back Thurman Thomas in the second round. Polian had expertly put the pieces together that would make the Bills a "championship caliber team," appearing in an NFL record, 4 straight Super Bowls. Because of his accomplishments, Bill Polian won the NFL Executive of the Year Award twice, in 1988 and in 1991.
On February 4, 1993, after the Bills had appeared in their 3rd straight Super Bowl, Bill Polian was fired as general manager. Polian wasn't fired because he wasn't doing a good job, he was fired because he didn't get along with treasurer, Jeff Littmann, for reasons unknown to all except those close to owner Ralph Wilson, Littmann and Polian himself.
In his closing press conference, Bill Polian said of the team that he built, "They're a very special group of men. Cherish them, you will not see their like again."
Carolina Panthers Edit
Polian was General Manger of the Panthers from 1994-1996. He tried to create the quickest Super Bowl winner in history, and nearly did so, building a team that went to the NFC Championship game in only its second year of existence. This feat led him to a promotion, becoming not just the GM, but the President of the Indianapolis Colts.
Indianapolis Colts Edit
First order of businessEdit
On December 21, 1997, the Colts played their last game of the season, losing to the Vikings and finishing the season 3-13. The very next day, Polian was hired as President to try and turn the team around. Polian opted not to keep QB Jim Harbaugh, who had led the team to the AFC Championship game following the 1995 season. Instead, he decided to build through the draft as the Colts would have the number 1 overall pick for 1998, and 2 of the most hyped quarterbacks would be coming out of college. As the '98 draft approached, much hype surrounded the first and second picks, as most people assumed they were going to be Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning. Then NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue made the announcement, "With the first overall pick of the 1998 draft, the Indianapolis Colts select quarterback, University of Tennessee, Peyton Manning". The San Diego Chargers would take Ryan Leaf second; Leaf's abbreviated career appears to have shown the wisdom of Polian's choice.
Marshall, Edgerrin, and RickyEdit
Even though the Colts finished 3-13 under Polian's first year as president, there were obvious signs of improvement. It was clear that towards the end of the season, Manning and his corps of receivers were starting to get a very good rhythm and the offense was starting to shine. Even with these signs of improvement, Polian opted not to keep RB Marshall Faulk, again deciding to build through the draft. The Colts would have the 4th overall pick in the draft, and again much hype would surround the draft as Ricky Williams was coming out. The Cleveland Browns re-entered the NFL in 1999 and would have the first pick, but with a short roster, they would opt for QB Tim Couch. The Philadelphia Eagles then selected QB Donovan McNabb, and the Cincinnati Bengals then took QB Akili Smith. Many Colt fans watching the draft live no doubt anticipated the selection next of the still-available Ricky Williams. But Polian shocked almost everyone by drafting Edgerrin James instead. The New Orleans Saints then traded away all of their draft picks for the entire year to move up high enough to take Williams with the next pick. Williams went on to struggle to live up to expectations, later leaving the NFL altogether. James would win the rushing title in both his rookie and second seasons by nearly 100 yards and 200 yards resepectively, vindicating Polian's choice.
During Polian's second year as president, the Colts finished 13-3 winning the AFC East title. As of 2005, this finish is the biggest turnaround in NFL history, as the Colts were 3-13 the prior season. The Colts would go on to a 10-6 record in 2000 qualifying the playoffs as a wild card. It was obvious the team was moving in the right direction.
Following the 2000 season, it was obvious that the Colts needed to focus on defense as their offense was very productive. Polian opted instead to draft WR Reggie Wayne with their first pick in the '01 draft. Although this choice was infurating to some Colt fans at the time(most people felt the team needed more defense), Wayne has gone on to become one of the premier receivers in the league, complimenting Marvin Harrison in an already potent offense. Polian also bolstered the offense with fourth-round pick Ryan Diem.
Before the '02 draft, Polian would fire head coach Jim Mora in favor of Tony Dungy. As the '02 draft approached it was clear the Colts desperately needed defense. Polian would draft Dwight Freeney amid much criticism that Freeney was too short to play defensive end. Freeney would go on to be selected to 3 consecutive Pro Bowls following the '03,'04, and '05 seasons.
The '03 draft produced 2 late round picks who would become impact players within the Colts defense. Fifth-round pick Robert Mathis has become one of the best pass rushing defensive ends in the AFC, and sixth-round pick Cato June (who played safety in college) would become a Pro Bowl linebacker.
In the '04 draft, Polian would draft strong safety Bob Sanders. Sanders probably would have been a higher pick in the draft, but he had suffered a foot injury which would require surgery and most other teams did not want that liability. However, Polian knew how good Sanders would be once his foot healed. Sanders would only play in 5 games his rookie season, but his second (and first full) season would prove why Polian drafted him as Sanders would go on to the pro bowl.
Despite his penchant for quality drafts, the key to the Colts success may come from Polian's ability to sign free agents, specifically undrafted rookie free agents who would become key contributors. Under Polian's watch, the Colts have signed undrafted or waived rookies such as Jeff Saturday, Dominic Rhodes, Terrence Wilkins, Raheem Brock, James Mungro, Gary Brackett, Ben Utecht, and Ryan Lilja. Polian also signed Nick Harper and Mike Vanderjagt as free agents from the Canadian Football League.
Polian has rarely signed established free agents away from other teams through big money contracts. One notable exception was following the 2005 season, when he signed kicker Adam Vinatieri to a $12 million contract.
Playoff woes endEdit
Even though the Colts finished with winning records and looked much better as a franchise, they would suffer playoff losses following the '99 and '00 seasons. Things would only get worse for the 2001 season as Edgerrin James would go down in week 7 with a season ending injury and the Colts would finish 6-10. A humiliating loss at home to the San Francisco 49ers would spark the famous "Playoffs?!" rant by then coach Jim Mora. Their biggest nemesis had been the Patriots, whom the Colts seemed unable to overcome in the playoffs. Two very good Colts teams lost in 2004 and 2005 to the Patriots. However in 2007, the Colts finally overcame their personal "kryptonite", beating the Patriots 38-34 in the biggest comeback in the history of an NFL Conference Championship game. They went on to defeat the Chicago Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI at Dolphin Stadium, vindicating Polian's personnel and team-building decisions over the past decade. The Woes continued when Polian blamed his offensive line and his special teams for the loss to the Saints. Polian has done this previously on the WFAN radio show with Mike and the Mad Dog in New York City. He hung up on the popular radio duo when they suggested he was "spitting in the face of history." Polian goes out of his way to praise his main offensive pieces while dogging his offensive line and special teams who have interchangeable parts.