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Father-son front office gives same old Colts new outlook

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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We interrupt the NFL lockout for a brief word about the Indianapolis Colts and why they're not going away anytime soon.

OK, so the Colts aren't anywhere we can see them -- nobody is -- but when the NFL resumes play there are a couple of things I like about these guys that should make them playoff factors for now and the foreseeable future.

Chris Polian 'is the general manager for sure,' says Colts owner Jim Irsay. (US Presswire)  
Chris Polian 'is the general manager for sure,' says Colts owner Jim Irsay. (US Presswire)  
First of all, look what they did in last month's draft: They added high-profile protection for their most valuable asset, quarterback Peyton Manning, by choosing tackles with their first two picks. Now, look how they did it: by breaking from a long-standing tradition. Boston College's Anthony Castonzo was the first offensive lineman chosen in the first round by the Colts since team president Bill Polian assumed command in 1998.

And that's what I like about the Colts most of all. Because it wasn't just Polian who made the decision; it was the Polians, with Bill's son, Chris, the team's vice president and general manager, making the call with his dad.

Some people called the 2011 draft his, but that's probably a stretch. All I know is that there were two Polians in the house calling the shots for the Colts, and there will be for at least the next three years.

I hedge there because owner Jim Irsay hedges. He said Polian is on a three-year plan as the team's vice chairman, but he also said he wouldn't hold him to a timeline.

"We just agreed, 'Let's make it three years, and see how you like your new role,'" said Irsay.

The question, of course, is what exactly is that new role? I mean, we know Chris Polian is the team's GM, and if you're going to trade with the Colts it's Chris, not Bill, you call. But where does his authority stop and his father's begin? And where do the two intersect?

Those are not easy questions to answer. In fact, Irsay struggled to define the elder Polian's job when I asked, saying only that it's "a unique situation" and that Polian -- Bill, that is -- is not really a consultant, as I thought and suggested. So what is he?

"Well, Chris is the general manager for sure," said Irsay, "and Bill is ... someone who has an opinion and a voice and all those things on a very senior level for the franchise.

"He is more than a consultant. His title is vice chairman, and I don't even know how that came up. He just said he wanted it, and I said, 'Well, that's fine.' But I don't know what sort of way to describe the title. I guess the way I've always been is that the spaces get filled with responsibility, and I have obviously talked to Bill and Chris to make sure they have an understanding how the groundwork is laid.

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"Bill is going to give his input, and he and I 'pow-wow' on the highest level of issues, but really it's Chris' time to move forward and make his mark. He's very good at what he does, and he's prepared -- someone who always wants to get a lot of feedback from Bill and me. It's not as if he's some Lone Ranger trying to get out there and do it. Bill and I know it's his time to implement his vision. And that's a good thing."

It was in this year's draft. The Colts scored big in the first two rounds, finding the necessary elements to keep Manning upright for years. Offensive tackle -- particularly the left side -- has been a sore spot since 2007 draft pick Tony Ugoh washed out, but the Colts plugged the leak in a hurry. They only had five picks, but attacked the greatest need with their first two -- Castonzo and Villanova tackle Ben Ijalana.

"We didn't think either guy would've been there where we picked them," Irsay said. "So we were fortunate. I talked to Bill right before the draft and said, 'If we get a chance to get two offensive linemen that can be a foundation for Peyton the next five years, that would go a long way.' And I was joking with him before one or both picks, saying, 'Well you can hear what the ghost of [former New York Giants GM] George Young is whispering in our ears. He's saying, 'Take the tackle, take the tackle, take the tackle.'"

So they did. Good for them and better for Manning. The Colts did what was right and necessary, and they did it without hesitation -- which is why having two Polians is always better than having one.

"This is a very natural process," said Irsay, "and it's a seamless transition. No question, Chris is doing the heavy lifting and the details, but Bill is still involved in special projects on things I define or on things with the league.

"It's a good transition, and quite frankly, it's been happening the last year or two. This isn't something where all of a sudden a day came, and we had this big, huge change. It's not as if there was a line in the sand where one day Bill was this and the next he was that. Slowly but surely Chris has become more involved the last few years."

It's not unlike how the Colts handled the departure of former head coach Tony Dungy. Irsay kept him on as long as he could but had Dungy groom Jim Caldwell -- then the team's quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach -- as his successor in Dungy's last season. The idea was for that "seamless transition" that Irsay spoke about, and all I know is that it worked. In his first year on the job Caldwell took the Colts to the Super Bowl.

The Colts can only hope this move goes as well. So far, so good.

"Bill is involved in a real sort of way," said Irsay, "just not as much. I think he's getting more time to be with [his wife] Eileen and the grandkids and to get away more. I will identify certain projects for him to work on a little more specifically -- some 'macro' projects that are important to the franchise -- where he can focus on some of them more and not be spread out as he might have been five or 10 years ago. It works well that way, and I'm always cognizant to make sure it is working."

And if it isn't?

"If anything gets too out of hand," said Irsay, "I'll bring Eileen Polian in here, and she'll straighten things out."

Like I said, the Colts are in good hands.

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