The Case Against Bill Polian

Nate makes the case against Bill Polian, which is different from the popular criticisms often used in the media.


I love a good debate.

I love when there are points to be made on both sides, and the dialogue is intense. This season, one of the most hotly debated topics among Colts writers (though not Colts fans) is whether or not Bill and Chris Polian should be brought back in 2012.

I’ve made my position clear: firing them would be the biggest mistake the Colts could make.

However, despite my disagreement with the ‘Fire Polian’ crowd, what has disappointed me most about the discussion is what a terrible job they have done making their case. Just last week Bob Kravitz tried to lay out an argument for firing Polian that failed miserably. His case can be summarized with the following “points”:

  • It’s “time”.
  • The draft
  • Polian’s media outbursts are embarrassing
  • Too many voices (despite complaining earlier that the public only hears Polian’s)
  • A big name coach won’t work with Polian.
  • He wants to bring Caldwell back.

So of the six reasons, we have a cliche, a complaint about how Polian deals with the media (legitimate), a contradiction (too many voices), two things that are historically provably false (the draft and Polian can’t work with a big time head coach despite the fact that he has his whole career and has never had a conflict with any of his head coaches), and guessing what Polian wants based on his assumption about who Peter King‘s source is. 

It’s a terrible case.

So, in the interest of furthering the debate, allow me to submit a real laundry list of the reasons Bill Polian should be fired. Understand that this isn’t my position at all, but these are much more cogent reasons for getting rid of one of the most successful GMs in history than anything his detractors have presented to date.

1. Polian has been too loyal to veterans. The Colts have signed the following players to bad contracts: Kelvin Hayden, Gary Brackett, Melvin Bullitt, Bob Sanders, Joseph Addai. At the time the deals were done, it was easy to question all of them. Hayden played a fungible position and did not deserve to be among the highest paid corners. Brackett was clearly past his prime. Bullitt was coming of an injury riddled season in which he also played horribly. Addai was an aging back with injury issues. Bob Sanders was coming off a defensive player of the year award, but everyone knew the deal was risky when it was signed, but Polian charged ahead with it. All of these contracts were HUGE mistakes. Four of them are haunting the 2012 Colts right now. The GM is paid to make the hard choices, and Polian made the wrong calls on these players. The Colts have done a great job staying away from veteran free agents, but they should have stayed away from more of their own players as well.

2. Polian hired Caldwell and is therefore responsible for his staff. If Polian wants to keep Caldwell, then he should be fired. Caldwell, regardless of his considerable personal merits, assembled a terrible coaching staff. Larry Coyer was a mistake from the beginning and may well have cost the Colts a Super Bowl. Ray Rychleski has been a disaster. Christensen couldn’t figure out how to create a run heavy offense. The staff consistently screwed with Donald Brown, and continues to do so even now. This entire staff has to go, and if Polian resists at all, then he has to go. Call it the Vic Fangio Principle. You can’t protect bad coaches. This point is complete conjecture (as it was for Kravitz) and only applies if Polian won’t axe Caldwell. If he will, then there’s no problem.

3. Polian wants to draft Andrew Luck no matter what. This one is conjecture, but it it’s true then he needs to go. Luck is a fine choice if Peyton Manning isn’t healthy, but the worst thing the Colts could possibly do would be to draft Luck and keep Manning. The rumors are that Polian loves Luck (and why wouldn’t he, with a son on the Stanford staff). If Polian is intractable about trading the #1 pick, then he needs to go. Again, this is conjecture, and if behind the scenes he’s flexible on trading the first pick, there’s no problem.

4. The Polians screwed up the QB situation this season. I know that the team was surprised that Manning wasn’t healthy, but it was professional malpractice to go through all of camp with just Painter and Orlovsky. They are horrible football players, and anyone who can’t see that doesn’t deserve an NFL job. They also didn’t step in and demand the coaches install a ‘stone age’ offense appropriate for the skill set of the players in question. This awful move cost the Colts maybe 3 wins this season. This would be a 5-6 win team instead of a 2-3 win team. I grant you that’s still a bad season, but it’s a lot more happy Sunday’s for the fans.

5. Polian is old. No one wants to say this because it’s not PC in today’s world to suggest that performance can diminish with age, but Bill Polian is in his 70s now. He needs to be removed from his position. If you want to keep Chris and let him run the show, then fine. We can judge Chris on his merits. As it stands now, we can’t be sure who is responsible for what, so we judge them as a tandem. That’s a terrible way to run a team. The Colts only have the one voice that counts. I’m sure there is grumbling (there is always is when the team is losing), but Bill is doing all the talking. Fire him and less Chris talk.

6. Polian wounded the fanbase with his comments after “The Jets Game”. There are still people who are bitter about the way that season went down. Polian handled it poorly and firing him for it is the only way to appease those paying customers who felt betrayed by the team and belittled by Polian. Polian’s handling of the media is terrible, and the hostile relationship he’s made with the local press has hurt the team. This season would have been a lot smoother with the fans and media if Polian was better at media relations.

7. Polian rebuilt the wrong part of the Colts in the 2011 draft. The decision to rebuild the Oline and draft Delone Carter was terrible. The Colts glaring need was in the defensive secondary and Indy took no steps to improve in one of the most important areas of football: pass defense. Instead, they chose to improve one of the most irrelevant areas of a football team: the offensive line and run game. The Colts run the ball better this year than they have in some time. Running the ball doesn’t lead to winning. I know that goes against what people believe about football, but it’s true. Passing and stopping the pass are the path to glory.

8. Polain supports neolithic thinking about football strategy. He isn’t pushing the envelope to make the Colts as close to a ‘no punt’ team as possible. The GM should be imploring his head coach to not play conservative football, but Polian seems to not only give Caldwell a pass on this, but openly encourages him to be conservative. 


Want Polian fired? There are the arguments that hold sway with me. Making up nonsense about draft failures (which is utterly ridiculous) isn’t the way to do it. There are counters to some of these arguments (especially the veteran contracts). The old standbys about Ryan Lilja (which is hilarious because he’s not really very good) and how he should have fixed the Oline sooner (it doesn’t matter as much as people think and fixing it wasted precious resources) or how no big coach would work with him (Levy, Capers, Mora and Dungy…seriously, Bob, try a little harder next time) just don’t make any sense.

I’ll grant you that many of the reasons on this list are weak. I didn’t say it was a good case…just that it was a lot better of a case than the one being presented currently.

If Bob Kravitz had made this case, I might be willing to listen. I wouldn’t listen for long, but I would listen.