Originally posted on The Sports Bank  |  Last updated 1/3/12

Wow. Never mind suggesting what an emotionally draining season 2011 has been for the Indianapolis Colts.

The last two days have been taxing enough.

Entering Sunday’s season finale at Jacksonville, the Colts were a once-proud franchise fallen from grace, a putrid roster bereft of its four-time MVP quarterback to mask its deficiencies and a trainwreck of an organization at the hands of Bill and Chris Polian.

By sundown Monday, the franchise was swept clean of Polian reign, had entered the market for a new general manager and now appears set to move forward with a new vision, very possibly with a promising young signal-caller.

The Colts’ loss to the Jaguars netted Indy the No. 1 pick in April’s NFL Draft, and Colts owner Jim Irsay made it official the next day that Bill Polian, who has had quite the run as an executive in Indianapolis and elsewhere, and his son Chris, the team’s general manager, would be relieved of their duties with the organization.

What a couple of days.

As Irsay emphasized countless times during his Monday press conference, it was time for a change.

There’s no denying the greatness of Bill Polian’s career as an architect of football teams. He helped construct a Buffalo Bills roster that went to four consecutive Super Bowls. His tenure in Carolina saw the expansion Panthers franchise reach the NFC Championship Game in just its second year of existence. And, of course, his 14-year run with the Colts consisted of 143 regular-season wins, playoff trips in 11 of 14 seasons (including nine straight from 2002-10), eight division titles and two Super Bowl appearances with a win in Super Bowl XLI. He generally did well with the draft, choosing Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf in 1998, hitting home runs in the first round with Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney and Dallas Clark, and finding diamonds in the rough in late-round selections like Robert Mathis, Antoine Bethea, Pierre Garcon and Pat McAfee and even undrafted free agents like Jeff Saturday and Gary Brackett.

But the six-time NFL Executive of the Year had seemed to lose his touch in the latter half of this decade. The drafts haven’t panned out particularly well since 2007. Granted, the Colts have been drafting at the bottom of each round in each draft, a product of winning and making the playoffs every year, but there are plenty of budding stars around the NFL today that the Colts could have drafted. Donald Brown, the Colts’ 2009 first-round pick, has shown promise this year, but LeSean McCoy, whom the Eagles drafted in the second round that year, put up absolutely gaudy statistics in Philly in 2011. The Colts also drafted defensive tackles Fili Moala in the second round 2009, but Jaguars third-rounder Terrance Knighton is generally regarded as a strong run stuffer and a better pro. 2010 first-rounder Jerry Hughes has been a complete bust to this point, recording just one sack in two years, and Patriots second-rounder Rob Gronkowski has blossomed into an elite tight end.

All that doesn’t account for the crippling 2007 trade for offensive tackle Tony Ugoh that left the franchise with a bust at a premium position and without a future first-round pick.

One draft mistake has piled on top of the other, and the Colts eventually became a team that had a handful of veteran stars at the top and then not much else down the rest of the roster (if you’re wondering why the Colts have perennially been disastrous on special teams, there’s your answer). As for the backup quarterback position, it obviously was inadequate and the primary reason Indy finished 2011 with just two wins. The Polians did try to shore it with the selection of Curtis Painter two years ago, and he did play well for a stretch when called upon this year, but he was simply woeful after the 62-7 debacle in New Orleans. The Polians voiced their support for Painter, and Bill even demanded vindication during the quarterback’s good stretch, causing many to question why he so hastily signed retired Kerry Collins to a $4 million contract when it became apparent Manning would miss time. The Collins signing apparently did not sit too well with the Colts players and even met public opposition from receiver Wayne.

That brings us to the way the Polians went about business. Whether it was berating any questioning of their dealings, firing key personnel department members periodically, inexplicably cutting players who could have strengthened the play on the field (Justin Tryon, anyone?), punting the perfect season at the vehement outrage of fans and even players, or spinning and leaking information about Manning’s neck rehab at their will, Bill and Chris Polian came off as arrogant power mongers. Such a description could also be supported by the alleged nepotism, as analyzed by Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz, that gave Chris so much power. Will any other team hire Chris to a similar position now?

All that piled up, and it became apparent to Irsay the time to make a directional change was now. The No. 1 pick and the prospects of drafting Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck — or maybe (but not likely) the chance to oversee a massive reload by trading the pick for a king’s ransom if Manning is healthy — makes for an attractive post in Indy. Irsay said Monday the man he currently is targeting is with a franchise in the playoffs right now. My guess is that guy is either Eric DeCosta, the director of player personnel for the Baltimore Ravens, or Reggie McKenzie, the director of football operations with the Green Bay Packers. Both men are widely regarded as top front-office candidates.

The new guy in charge likely will have a say in whether current Colts coach Jim Caldwell remains with the team. While some people don’t get the point of Irsay firing the Polians but leaving Caldwell on the ropes — Caldwell gave a rather awkward press conference Monday in which he said he’d carry on as usual until otherwise notified — I like the idea of letting Caldwell meet with the new GM before his fate is decided. Caldwell is a better coach than almost everyone gives him credit for. His in-game decisions have been questionable at best, true enough, but the fact he was able to get his players up after a draining oh-fer season to win two games late against division rivals who still had something to play for speaks volumes to me.

I expect, however, the new GM will want to bring in his own coach. I couldn’t speculate as to who an unknown executive might want, but I do know that Jeff Fisher reportedly has interest in the Colts, per CBS Sports. If Irsay is intrigued at the prospect of pairing Fisher with Manning or Luck, he might just go ahead and hire the coach before the GM, as he said he wouldn’t hesitate to do. While he seems to want to give Caldwell a shot at keeping the job, Irsay won’t let that get in the way of doing what’s best for his franchise, as he proved affirmatively Monday by firing the Polians.

I’ll go out saying this: My best friend and I have followed the Colts long before Twitter, and we have known how good an owner Irsay is. His Twitter personality makes him appear quirky, and the Polians’ running of the franchise made some believe Irsay was powerless or lacking in spine. My buddy and I knew better. Irsay did right by his franchise, and he should be lauded by Colts faithful.

 

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