Recap: Colts Owner Jim Irsay’s Press Conference

Brett Mock recaps Jim Irsay’s press conference, where he announces the firing of Bill and Chris Polian.


At 5:00 PM EST, on Monday January 2, 2012, Colts Owner Jim Irsay took the podium at the Colts offices on West 56th Street to announce the firing of long-time general manager, president, and vice chairman Bill Polian — and his recently promoted general manager son Chris Polian. The decision to cut ties with the Polians ends a 14-year professional relationship, and certainly puts a strain on a friendship that stretches back 30 years overall.

During Polian’s tenure in Indianapolis, the Colts have enjoyed the longest string of regular season success in franchise history, league history, and were one Peyton Manning injury away from likely holding the NFL record for consecutive playoff berths — they are already tied for it but would have held it outright. He was responsible for bringing in players like Peyton Manning, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Bob Sanders, Gary Brackett, Antoine Bethea, Jeff Saturday, and Joseph Addai. In early 2007, many of those players brought the first Lombardi trophy to Indianapolis and in 2009, many of those players took the team to its second Super Bowl in three seasons.

To say that parting ways with a six-time NFL executive of the year recipient was not an easy decision would be an understatement. As much as Polian rubbed members of the media the wrong way and was not necessarily known publicly as being a really friendly personality, the results during his tenure for three NFL franchises are really difficult to argue with.

Of course, it is a lot easier to argue with a man once the ivory tower begins to crash down because perhaps the greatest quarterback to ever play football missed the entire season to injury. When the winning stops, critical voices get louder. Burned bridges come back to haunt you. And, in many regards, it seems like those are the kinds of things that contributed to Bill and Chris Polian losing their jobs.

What follows is as thorough of a transcript from the press conference as I could manage live on Twitter yesterday afternoon. I have inserted my own comments where I believe some of his statements indicate the types of moves and actions Colts fans should begin to brace themselves for over the coming summer.

I am expected to ensure that the circle I have built in the locker room is the best I can. How do you make a decision like this as an owner? It’s an intuitive decision, a lot goes into it.

From some of your perspectives [the media] you are only aware of a fraction of the things that go on.

Have always believed it is about timing, it is about energy… Bill is a Hall of Fame manager, certainly a ring of honor member in our town.

New era, moving into exciting times. In terms of the search for the new general manager. It begins immediately. Have not talked to any teams/general managers yet.

The biggest indicator from Irsay’s initial statements is the admission that he is very early in the process of locating and acquiring Bill and Chris Polian’s replacement(s). This puts some of the early off-season moves on hold.

In terms of coaching staff, met with Caldwell and it is still under evaluation. Not like in 1997, it will take multiple weeks to resolve the coaching and general manager situation. The coaching decision will be made after the general manager is hired. Not outside the realm of possibility that Caldwell will be back.

Moving forward with Caldwell to take care of team business. On big decisions, Irsay has learned you wait as long as you can and feels this is best for the franchise.

No other changes other than Bill and Chris Polian at this point. Steve Chaplain’s contract will not be renewed but no other changes planned at this time.

Irsay indicates here that he trusts Caldwell and does not have an issue with retaining him as head coach. More importantly, without the influence of the Polians in the front office, Irsay prefers to keep someone he knows and trusts around to help the team move forward in the early off-season.

Kravitz: What happened intuitively to reach this decision?

Irsay: Many components you look at, weighing positive with negative. Energy, timing that you feel is right for the organization. In the end it is intuitive decision because you feel the time is right. Difficult because I have worked with the Polians for years. Outstanding hires have deficiencies, strengths and weaknesses, in the end 14 years in a long time and I think Bill was moving toward retirement. Bill has had a magical, rare talent of evaluating player. An intuitive feel for greatness. Show in Buffalo, Carolina, and here.

Irsay indicates here that his decision to part ways with the Polians had more to do with energy and timing than it did for some kind of concern about Bill’s ability to evaluate talent, IE to draft good players. It also appears that Bill Polian’s slow steps backward in terms of responsibility and activity impacted Irsay’s decision to move on.

Question: What qualities will a new GM have to have?

Irsay: I think it’s critical to have a game plan to get back to greatness. One organization pulling in the same direction. Unity. Realize the community and everything has to work together. In a smaller market, you need someone who has a vision of hose the organization is connected.

Irsay aknowledges the fact that there were problems with unity and working together. He also acknowledges the fact that Bill Polian was not adept at professionally handling the local media in a small market. These are certainly indications that these areas regarding Polian in and outside of the offices had an impact on his decision to move on, but how much those statements were fueled by trying to appease a vocally upset group of media will never be known.

Kravitz: How important is new GMs opinion on Peyton?

Irsay: When it comes to major decisions, I have the final decision. That is the way it has to be. At the same time, when I hire outstanding people I listen to them a lot. Only the owner has the total vision, and ultimately makes the decisions in the end.

Wanted the last game to come to a conclusion and walk out of Jacksonville taking in the whole season. You always are open to revisiting your positions with regard to what you think is best for the franchise. This has been a difficult, incredible, intriguing story.

Less than 2 years ago we are preparing to play in the Super Bowl and cleaning confetti off of the turf in Lucas Oil Stadium. Stark decline. No one would have believed the team would have the number 1 pick and a 2-14 record at this point then.

In my final analysis, this is what I thought was best for the franchise. It changes during games. Twitter/Blogs fans are communicating and you always listen to the fans, they’re the shareholders. Aware of those opinions. But those things have never influenced making critical decisions.

The bottom line is to have success, good or bad decisions [popularity] doesn’t matter if you don’t win game. Fans should want the people who have all of the information to make those decisions, even in the face of unpopular directions or decisions.

While Irsay is quick to accept all of the responsibility for the state of the franchise, and will be the ultimate decision-maker moving forward — as he has always been — he admitted that he envisions bringing in a GM whose opinion means a lot. It is interesting to note that Irsay gave a public nod to Twitter and bloggers. One has to wonder how the Colts PR policies will be modified under new management and with Irsay — who is now a public figure on Twitter — putting his stamp back onto the organization.

It is also worth noting that regardless of what role new media plays in covering the Colts in the future, the opinions of fans and blogs — while they may be heard — will not control decisions that are made within the franchise. The fact remains that those inside the organization are far better informed and have to make the right call regardless of popularity. A great position, stance, and tone from the Colts owner here.

Question: How much of your decision was based upon the failures of this season versus the larger implications of where the team is going?

A lot goes into a decision like this. In terms of where we are going, it is obviously a very exciting time for the franchise. Having the first pick in the draft and having higher picks in all the other rounds. It’s an important time for the franchise. Salary cap issues have to be dealt with. A lot to be done. You never know how eras begin, and what constitutes an era ending and beginning. There is no sugar coating that we are in a rebuilding stage.

These statements may very well have the biggest implications of all. A great deal of impetus was placed on the importance of the coming draft. The words “we are in a rebuilding state” are indicative of what may be a widescale house cleaning, particularly the high salary veterans. Generally speaking, teams do not fire their general managers, have really uncertain outlooks about the health of their marquee player, and express deep concerns about coming salary cap issues unless they are planning on making drastic personnel changes.

From Irsay’s statements, it will take a major contract restructing from Manning and probably generous considerations from the Colts veterans for there to be a likelihood that the 2012 Indianapolis Colts will be immediately competitive.

Question: Any idea if Manning can play football again?

Irsay: I don’t know. Always been a medical situation, since the fusion. Is he healthy enough to play at a high level and be in harm’s way? That has been the most important decision for me. That’s something we’re continuing to see were we are at. Haven’t talked to Peyton yet. Will in the next week or so and over the course of the off-season.

I’m always living in the future. Spent time in 2012, trying to run scenarios in my mind on how to transcend into different eras… as has been done in other places like Dallas. Ideally, you like to see a slower transition. You don’t like to see such a falloff. But that’s not the way it always works.

I really feel excited about the possibilities of our future. I’m not interested in a popularity contest in terms of my decisions but I’m interested in getting it right.

Building for long term success that we want to enjoy. Possible that these issues will not be resolved until the new GM is here but not going to commit to anything there. If I see the direction and actions to take to get us in the right direction, I would not hesitate to act. But having the new GM in place is probably likely.

When we let Jim Mora go, we didn’t know for sure what we were going to do. Then TB let Dungy go and we got him on the phone that night and offered him the job. Keep your eyes open and be ready to seize opportunities. When you see something that is going to bring greatness to your franchise, you go after them. You do what you have to do to put pillars in place.

Once again, using the term “bulding for long term success” does not mesh well with widespread veteran retainment and a short-term push for Super Bowl berths to close out Manning’s career. It seems relatively clear that Irsay is leaning toward doing what is painful now to get the team back to long-term success, which would likely require an infusion of young talent, and a clearing fo the salary cap ASAP.

Only a healthy Peyton Manning, clearly and truly healthy, that is willing to take a significant pay cut to deal with the imminent salarcy cap concerns.

Question: Did you give Bill/Chris a chance in the meeting to change your mind or choose to handle it differently?

Irsay: Made the decision this morning. In terms of perception, I wanted this to go as well as it could. I think it went well. Bill and I had a chance to have a second meeting, exchange some tears and a hug. Extremely difficult walking out of the locker room in Jacksonville My affection for the people who have worked in this franchise is deep but my commitment to doing what is best for the success of this franchise is resolute.

Question: Deadline in your head at all for getting a GM in place?

No. Not a process I’m going to rush. I think it’s too important of a decision to not carefully go through the process. Ideally the sooner the better. It’s impossible to have 10 win seasons consistently.

Again, be prepared for a longer delay than is comfortable. The Colts future is in a state of uncertainty right now and it could be weeks until light starts to bring things into focus.

Question: Do you want to change the culture?

Irsay: Always interested in making sure we are as good as we can be in every way we run the franchise.

It’s been discussed the difficulties between Bill and the media over the years. We had many discussions and continued to stress the importance of that. Agree that we can do some things. In continuing to manage our media relationships, particularly locally, making sure the whole experience of people you are working with is improved and on a very high level. There has to be some protection on how much information is discussed for the good of the football program but that can be overused and we can improve that.

On some of the things Jim Caldwell has done, some of you guys don’t see it, some of the real strengths he has… a bright guy, great teacher, great personnel evaluator, highly respected by the players. Demanding, will make changes that need to be made, and takes responsibility. Never complained about not having enough players or injuries.

One thing you look for is consistency with how they handle the players. We had it with Tony Dungy… we heard that people wanted Dungy to rant more on the sidelines and throw his headphones down. He never did that. Tom Landry never did that.

Coyer was a big mistake because he was not a Cover-2 guy. It was not in his DNA.

Yes there have been some problems on game management and clock management. That has been acknowledged and I think improved.

We are into January 2 as the rest of the league is too. Caldwell was excited and understood that he might not be here but that he very well could be here. That decision will probably be made after a new GM is here but I’m not ruling out anything. I’m not going to eliminate anything that can make the franchise better.

Hope to keep some continuity. The people I know and have worked with don’t want to change everything and want some continuity.

Once again, be prepared for some changes in the Colts relationship with local media — and potentially new media. Irsay is definitely more open to being a participant in the more open, 60/60/24/7 media environment the world is moving into. How much those issues really impacted his decision to part ways with a long time colleague and friend is not clear, but that changes are coming in that area is.

Irsay has made clear that he will be leaning on Caldwell during this transitional period to help hold the lockeroom together and be someone his personnel trusts.