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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

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, where he impressed Bills owner Ralph Wilson by telling then-coach Kay Stephenson, "We were 2-14 on merit--we have the worst personnel in the NFL." 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 its 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 Conlan) while also acquiring the #36 slot, which he then traded to 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 four straight Super Bowls. Because of his accomplishments, 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, 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 Wilson, Littmann and Polian himself.

In his closing press conference, 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

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

First order of business

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 Tennesseemarker, 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.

Also in 1998, Polian indicated his personal approval of nepotism when he hired his son Chris as Director of Pro Personnel; he has since promoted him to Vice-President of Football Operations and general manager.

Running Backs

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 suffered injury shortened seasons his first two years with the Saints, although he did bounce back, including a season in which he rushed for over 1,800 yards following a trade to the Miami Dolphins, to win the rushing title. 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. Following the 2005 season, Edgerrin became a free agent and the Colts chose not to sign him to a deal or place the franchise tag on him. This left many Colt fans scratching their heads. However, in the 2006 NFL Draft, Polian drafted possibly the next great Colt runner with the 30th pick in LSU's Joseph Addai. While many talented runners were taken ahead of Addai in Reggie Bush, Laurence Maroney, and DeAngelo Williams, Joseph Addai led all rookie runners with 1,081 rushing yards and did so without making a regular season start, playing behind Dominic Rhodes. Many teammates including Peyton Manning have stated that it's not so much Addai's talent but his desire to learn. His running was instrumental in the Colts winning their first Super Bowl with Indianapolis. However, in the 2008 season, Addai struggled all season, running for just 544 yards, just 6 more than his backup Dominic Rhodes.

The turnaround

During Polian's second year as president, the Colts finished 13-3 winning the AFC East title. At the time, this finish was the biggest turnaround in NFL history, as the Colts were 3-13 the prior season (the 2008 Miami Dolphins would later finish with an 11-5 record, also a ten game improvement over their 1-15 campaign in 2007). 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, most outside observers believed that the Colts would focus on defense, as the offense had become quite potent. However, Polian opted instead to draft wide receiver Reggie Wayne with their first pick in the 2001 draft. Although this choice was confusing and possibly even infuriating to some Colts fans at the time, Wayne has gone on to be one of the premier receivers in the league, complementing Marvin Harrison in an already potent offense. Polian also bolstered the offense with fourth-round pick Ryan Diem, who is currently the Colts' starting right offensive tackle.

Before the 2002 draft, head coach Jim Mora was fired in favor of recently fired Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy. As the 2002 draft approached, it was clear the Colts desperately needed help on defense. Polian would draft Dwight Freeney in the 1st round amid much criticism that Freeney was too small to play defensive end and was a reach for the 11th overall pick. Freeney would go on to be selected to 4 Pro Bowls following the 2003, 2004, and 2005, and 2008 seasons.

The 2003 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 was recently selected for the 2008 Pro Bowl, and sixth-round pick Cato June (who played safety in college) would become a Pro Bowl linebacker and has since signed with Tampa Bay.

In the 2004 draft, Polian selected strong safety Bob Sanders early in the 2nd round after trading out of the first. 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. 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, and, in his fourth season, become the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Polian is well regarded among the NFL for his draft acumen. To date, he has not "missed" on a 1st round pick with the Colts. His most notable selection, of course, is Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf in the 1998 NFL Draft. Peyton Manning has won three MVP awards and one Super Bowl, whereas Leaf has been out of professional football for several years. Most scouts already had concluded that Manning was the more "NFL-ready" quarterback.

A long-standing joke amongst Colts' fans is that Polian gets all of his first round picks right, but his 3rd round picks rarely pan out. Some notable failures include Gilbert Gardner 2004, Vincent "Sweet Pea" Burns in 2005, and Quinn Pitcock in 2006.

Free agency

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, Ryan Lilja, and Melvin Bullitt. 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. He has said that the Colts have no interest in the annual sweepstakes for veteran free agents. The Colts under Polian are also known for finding unknown linebackers who become hugely successful in Indianapolis before moving on to large contracts elsewhere, including Marcus Washington, Mike Peterson, and Cato June. In the offseason of 2004, he signed former pro-bowl DT Corey Simon in a move that did not work out as planned because Simon contributed little to the Colts due to a "mystery" illness; Simon was cut and Jim Irsay publicly said signing him was a mistake. Another notable exception was following the 2005 season, when he signed kicker Adam Vinatieri to a $12 million contract, although Sports Illustrated noted the contract took up only 3% of the Colts' 2006 salary cap. The move made Vinatieri the NFL's highest paid kicker, and his clutch play was key in the Colts progression toward becoming Super Bowl XLI champions.

Following the retirement of tackle Tarik Glenn prior to the start of the 2007 season, only one player remained from the pre-Polian era, wide receiver Marvin Harrison. He was released at his wish in the 2009 offseason, because of salary cap issues.

Playoff woes end

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. In 2003 and 2004, the Colts had one of the most prolific offenses in the history of the NFL, and Manning won back to back MVP awards. However, both these seasons would end in New England, as the Patriots stifled the Colts 24-14 and 20-3. After the 2003 AFC Championship game, Polian convinced the competition committee and the leagues head of officiating Mike Pereria to issue a crackdown on illegal contact and defensive holding in the secondary, claiming that the Colts receivers had been roughed up illegally by the Patriots defensive backs without penalty during the Championship game. The league complied, leading to these penalties becoming much more strictly enforced and prevalent during games.

The fact that both losses came in bad weather in Foxboro led to many questioning whether the Colts offense was built for indoor stadiums since the Colts played their home games first inside the (recently demolished) RCA Domemarker, and now in Lucas Oil Stadiummarker, and also questioning if Peyton Manning would ever win a Super Bowl. In 2005, the struggles continued, as the Colts fell to the sixth-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers, even though they were the beneficiary of a questionable overturn of an apparent Troy Polamalu interception that led to a Colts touchdown. After Manning was sacked on 4th down inside of his own 10 yard line with under two minutes to play, the Steelers seemed poised for victory. But a Jerome Bettis fumble was recovered by Nick Harper, who only had to get past Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger to score a game-winning TD—and Roethlisberger tackled him (it was later revealed Harper was limited by a gash to the knee he had suffered the night before the game). After driving to the Steelers 29 yard line, Vanderjagt, who at the time was the most accurate kicker in NFL history, badly missed a 46 yard field goal, leading to another offseason of excuses from the Colts. After the game, Manning infamously claimed that the Colts offense "had some problems with protection", and was harshly criticized for blaming his teammates for his team's failures. It appeared that Manning would never overcome his playoff woes.

However in 2007, the Colts finally overcame their personal "kryptonite," beating the Patriots 38–34 in the biggest comeback ever in a Conference Championship game, after the Patriots took a 21-3 lead late in the first half. The Patriots had multiple chances to put the game away, but were unable to convert on 3rd and 4 with only minutes remaining in the game, and were forced to punt the ball back to the Colts. After a quick scoring drive, which ended in a Joseph Addai touchdown run, the Patriots got the ball back for one final shot, but Tom Brady was intercepted by Marlin Jackson, and the Colts had finally lived up to expectations and made the Super Bowl. They went on to defeat the Chicago Bears 29–17 in Super Bowl XLI at Dolphin Stadium.

Competition committee

Polian is a member of the NFL competition committee.

External links

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