Toxic Shock

I’m contractually obligated to mention yesterday’s game.

The Falcons drubbed the Colts 31-7. In the game, we learned that the defense has no idea what it’s doing out there. Curtis Painter is every bit as bad as he can be. Don Brown should be starting. Jim Caldwell has no idea what he’s doing. Oh, and the Colts will probably get the #1 pick, meaning this franchise is likely to turn it around very quickly.

That about covers it.

I don’t have it in me to rehash the hot flaming mess that was yesterday’s game. I sat through it. That’s penance enough.

Instead, I want to take this opportunity to examine the claims made by Bob Kravitz in yesterday’s Star.

In it, Bob claims that Chris Polian is a ‘toxic force’ within the Colts organization. He then goes on to make a bevy of very specific claims.

The article was erroneous and irresponsible.

In the interest of full disclosure…I have nothing to disclose. The Polians have never done anything for me. Their policies have kept me from acquiring media credentials to which I think anyone would grant that after five years, millions of readers, thousands of articles, and a book, I’m entitled to. Their draconian media policy has personally hurt me and suppressed my earning power. I don’t know them. I’m not friends with them. I doubt I’d like them much if we met. I was a Colts fan long before they arrived, and will be long after they leave. I have no motivation or cause to support them other than one:

My promise to my readers is to tell the truth.

Indulge me please, while I address Bob’s points one by one. I’m going to warn you now. This will take awhile.

Bob begins with a question:

Which leads me to this question: What has Chris Polian done to assure his long-term security?

This isn’t a difficult question. He was one of the principal architects in the building of one of the greatest prolonged stretches of success in NFL history. He built a team that nearly had a perfect season two years ago, and was a botched onside kick away from winning the Super Bowl. That’s not the kind of person that you fire. Yes, the Colts are having one of the worst seasons in NFL history. Given the way the roster was constructed philosophically, it was inevitble the minute Peyton Manning went down. It’s a quarterback league, and the Colts don’t have one. I don’t believe in firing the front office because one guy got hurt and sank the season. Certainly not when that play worked just fine for oh, a decade or so.

I’ve spoken to several former Colts people in recent weeks, and while none of them will go on the record — many have non-disclosure agreements and fear public comment will hurt their NFL job prospects — virtually all of them told me Chris Polian has been a toxic force who has brought this franchise to its knees for reasons other than Peyton Manning’s injury.

Bob’s first ‘bombshell’ is anything but. He talked to people who have been fired by the Colts, and they are unhappy with the guy who fired them. This information is neither useful nor surprising. It tells us nothing. It informs nothing.

It’s not surprising. It’s not anything.  

I have zero doubt, and I mean zero, that Kravitz is being 100% truthful. He’s not making this up. I believe his sources said every word he claims they said. I’ll grant you that there no actual direct quotes anywhere in the story, but still. I don’t doubt that ex-employees had bad things to say about Chris Polian. People who get fired from their jobs often do have mean things to say about the person who fired them.

This may be Chris Polian’s first full year with complete control over the team’s daily operations, but since he started moving up the organizational ladder in the early 2000s for no apparent reason other than being a Polian, he has been instrumental in hastening the exits of scouts and assistant coaches who led the Colts to previous greatness.

Whoa. It’s the assistant coaches and scouts who led the Colts to previous greatness?

Let that marinate for a moment:

The scouts and assistant coaches who led the Colts to previous greatness.

Honestly, I have no idea how to even respond to that. Scouts and assistant coaches are great and all, but please. I mean…please.

The following men were here in 2004 and are no longer here in 2011.

Scout Tom Gamble, gone after the 2004 season.

Scout Paul Roell, out after the 2006 draft.

Director of college scouting Mike Butler, out after the 2006 draft.

Scout David Caldwell, out in 2007.

Coordinator of player personnel John Becker, out in 2008.

Area scout Ryan Cavanaugh, out in 2008.

Assistant general manager/scouting Dom Anile, pushed out in 2009. Anile was a precious resource as one of the few men who would tell Bill Polian things he didn’t want to hear.

A fairly direct line can be drawn between some of those departures and the decline in the quality of the Colts’ drafts.

There are real problems with Kravitz’s claim. He claims people were fired and that led to a decline in the Colts’ drafts. The first claim is a logical flaw. The second is a factual error.

Problem 1: Kravitz claims the drafts were bad in 2007 and 2008. Half the men on his list were fired in 2007 and 2008. That means some of them were partially responsible for the ‘bad drafts’. If the 2007 draft was so bad, then why should we care that the Colts fired scouts and draft guys who were present for those bad drafts. If the drafts were as awful as Kravitz claims, then maybe those guys deserved to get fired. Why should we care that guys who helped on bad drafts got canned? If the drafts were good, and have stayed good, then it doesn’t matter that those guys moved on.

Problem 2: THE DRAFTS WEREN’T BAD. To prove the Colts drafted poorly, Kravitz resorts to the following method: he lists all the players drafted.

I…I…I don’t know what to even do with that. Yes, Bob, that’s a draft list. You correctly transcribed who the Colts drafted. I’m not sure how that’s evidence of bad drafting. I’ve been over this and over this and over this. But here’s me going over it again.

Today, I will use the data from reader Mike J. Mike posted in recent weeks under the screen name jj62. He has been a vocal Polian detractor and led the battle cry that the Colts have drafted poorly.

I asked him to please conduct his own study of the draft on his own terms and report back. You see, I’m a fool who believes that when making claims, you should research them and try and support them with as many facts as possible. I’m crazy like that. I don’t find lists of names convincing.

Mike decided to compare the Colts drafts to the Giants, Patriots, Steelers, Chargers, Packers, Saints, and Ravens.

Over the past 7 years (2005-2011), he found that the Colts drafts rank second in starters produced, 2nd in career AV, third in games played, third in percent of draftees still in the NFL, and second in games started in 2011. You can sort through his data yourself. The Colts fall behind in two categories. The first is Pro Bowlers, but if you read the research last week, the reason for that is obvious: the vast majority of Pro Bowlers are produced in the top 15 picks of the draft.

The second area the Colts trail is in total draft points. The Colts have had a FRACTION of the draft points of those other franchises. Indy had the fewest draft points in the NFL over the span. Green Bay (who did very well in Mike’s research) had 10th most, nearly DOUBLE the points the Colts had.

The Colts have been more than holding their own in the draft against the BEST teams in the NFL despite far worse total draft position. All those other franchises, with the exception of the Patriots, have had bad seasons and high draft picks in that span. Only the Colts and Pats have kept winning without pause. The best part of it is, that the Pats come out TERRIBLE in these studies. You want bad drafts, check out New England’s draft history.

Please, PLEASE can we all stop talking about how bad the Colts drafts have been? It’s not true.

Bob would argue that the Colts failed when Gonzalez and Ugoh didn’t turn out to be 10 year starters. I would argue that expecting to get a 10 year WR and a 10 year left-tackle in the late first round and middle second round of the same draft is completely unrealistic. It just doesn’t happen. Once in a while, you get Reggie Wayne in the late 20s, but most of the time you get guys like Gonzo and Ugoh. They were picks that didn’t quite work out, but the Colts still got late second round value for them. That’s not awful. Compare that with a guy like Garcon, and the net result is a positive.

I’m done with the point. Until someone can show actual research indicating the Colts are drafting worse than the teams around them, then I’m not buying it.

I want facts.

Not lists.

Then there are the longtime assistant coaches who left, in some part because of troubled relationships with the Polians, specifically Chris.

Howard Mudd, the offensive line coach, who left Indy after the 2009 season, returned to the Colts briefly, retired after the Super Bowl loss and then came out of retirement to join Philadelphia. Mudd was thinking about leaving for some time, but when Bill Polian blamed the offensive line for the Super Bowl loss, he knew he wasn’t welcome to return.

Gene Huey, the running backs coach, who was shown the door in 2010.

Tom Moore, the offensive coordinator, who was gracelessly cast aside without notice or fanfare after the 2010 season. Over time, Moore was cut off at the knees, his voice no longer audible.

The two best parts of the Colts in 2011 are the running backs and the line. Pete Metzelaars has done a fine job. Now that Huey is gone, Donald Brown looks like a decent player. The Indy line was garbage in 2008 and 2009. We all love Howard Mudd, but any other coach would have been canned for that line. As for Huey, all I can say is that we have to at least CONSIDER the possibility that Don Brown is actually a talented player who has been used poorly.

Don Brown‘s last 16 games with a carry: 161 for 651 yards, 4.0 YPC, 3 TD, 21 receptions, 9.0 YPR. Addai’s last 16: 200 for 889 yards 4.4 YPC, 6 TD, 37 receptions, 7.0 YPR.

Remind me again why Brown is such a bust? I’m not seeing it.

As for Tom Moore, he was over 70. I’m not trying to be ageist, but at some point you have to move on. Did the Colts exhibit a lack of class in some respects? Yes. No question. It’s very hard to argue that any of those moves were out of line, however. NFL teams swap coaches all the time. Huey, Moore, and Mudd were lucky to have jobs in the same city for so long. It’s almost unheard of in the NFL.

All Colts decisions are made by the entire front office, but I’m told the Ugoh draft, the decision to get rid of Ryan Lilja, the failures to reconstruct the offensive line, the doomed Corey Simon signing, all of them had Chris Polian’s fingerprints all over them.

1. Ryan Lilja isn’t that good. He was expensive and replaceable. He had a couple of good games early last year, causing Peter King to freak out over him, and he’s been mediocre ever since. You can’t hang on to every high priced veteran. Guards are fungible.

2. If the Colts hadn’t taken Ugoh, who plays left tackle in 2007? Please, someone answer that question. Charlie Johnson? Did anyone watch the New England game? The only stretch the Colts looked bad in 2007 was the stretch that Ugoh missed. Did he work out? No. Did he help the Colts win a division title. Yes.

3. EVERYONE celebrated the Corey Simon signing. Everyone. For the whole 2005 season, it looked great. Even so, how did it hurt the Colts? They lost some cap space in 2006 and 2007. It was expensive financially, but didn’t set the team back. If that’s a guy’s big screw up, I hardly think it’s even worth noting. At least he seems to have learned from it and not gone out and signed high priced guys again.

4. As for reconstructing the offensive line, I’ve been over this. In a league of limited resources, it’s just not as important as other areas. i hold that the biggest mistake this year was trying to rebuild the line rather than the secondary.

As Chris’ star rose in recent years, others in the organization bristled at what they viewed as clear nepotism. Bill would stroke his son in staff meetings, remind everybody what a huge impact he made. Meanwhile, scouts and others saw Chris getting raises and promotions without doing what they perceived to be the necessary legwork.

So some guys who got fired were jealous because Polian got promoted and paid well. Again, this isn’t anything. It’s nothing.

It wasn’t Caldwell who chose to start the season with a paper-thin secondary. It wasn’t Caldwell who woke up one day and said, “Gosh, I’d really like to start the season with four offensive linemen who are either starting for the first time or playing a new position.” It wasn’t Caldwell who held on to Curtis Painter, then showed so little faith in the quarterback he went out and spent $4 million on Kerry Collins.

Nice. We are back to $4 million for Collins. We’ve been over this point. Carrying an expensive backup before this season would have cost the Colts a player at another position because Indy has been up against the cap for years. A better backup costs you a playoff spot in previous years, and maybe MAYBE gets you what, 5 wins this year? Please. As for paying $4 million for Collins, we saw yesterday why they did that: PAINTER IS NOT ANY GOOD. From what I saw at the Luke, it was worth a try to bring someone in. Collins was the obvious and best choice. Yes, he cost $4 million. What free agent were they going to sign to a 1 year, $4 million deal. Again, this isn’t the kind of mistake you fire someone for. I’m not sure it is even a mistake at all.

In the end, what are left with? Jealous ex-employees, a strong drafting record, some old assistant coaches getting moved along, some minor personnel missteps (if they can even be called that), and well, nothing.

Kravitz shouldn’t have written this piece. It rises and falls on the draft analysis, and he simply failed to do any. He didn’t do the right kind of research. He talked to the sources (though he couldn’t get any quotes). He heard the gossip. But he failed to spend a couple of hours on ProFootballReference.com to figure out if his claims were true. This was a blog-worthy piece. Not this blog though. I wouldn’t have run. I’d have been too embarrassed by it.

I’m sure the Polians aren’t nice guys. I’m sure they rub people the wrong way. I don’t care. The record speaks for itself. No off the record innuendo does anything to change the facts.

And my loyalty is to the facts.

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