Despite unexpected release, this isn't the end of iron-hand Polian

by | CBSSports.com National NFL Insider
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Bill Polian, for one of the first times in his life, was blindsided.

Polian spent a part of Monday speaking to Peyton Manning about his rehabilitation schedule, a person familiar with the situation confirmed. Polian, at that point in the morning, had no idea he was about to be fired. Neither did Manning.

After Polian was relieved of his duties by owner Jim Irsay, he again met with Manning inside the Colts complex, the source explained, and both men proceeded to say their goodbyes. "Both were almost in tears," said the source. "It was very emotional." Manning confirmed many of these details in a telephone interview with ESPN.

I'm told Manning was initially furious that he wasn't consulted by Irsay about the firing of Polian but has since calmed.

Colts owner Jim Irsay announces the firing of Bill Polian and his son Chris on Monday. (US Presswire)  
Colts owner Jim Irsay announces the firing of Bill Polian and his son Chris on Monday. (US Presswire)  
Polian's emotional moment with Manning was in stark contrast to another moment earlier in Polian's career that happened in the summer of 1985 almost three decades ago when he started what was one of the best building projects in NFL history: the construction of the Buffalo Bills. Polian and the agent for Jim Kelly were in a room hammering out details for Kelly's contract. The agent pushed Polian to give Kelly more money due to what the agent believed was a horrible offensive line that could get Kelly injured.

Polian tired of the bashing of a line he had constructed. Polian interrupted the agent and sprung into a three-point stance. He challenged the agent to do the same. C'mon, show me, Polian said. Show me how much you really know about line play. The agent backed down. Point made.

Polian has always won. Oh, he's been fired before, but he's always won because Polian was always in control. Except at the end.

Polian will stroll into the Hall of Fame on a chariot having built the Bills, Carolina Panthers and Colts into Super Bowl contenders and being named executive of the year six times. Few in NFL history built teams faster, more intelligently, and deeper than Polian.

Three teams and seven Super Bowl appearances is, well, remarkable.

But as great as he was building winners he was equally skilled at constructing walls within his own organization. He ran his teams with an iron hand and was an unrepentant bully both to people who worked for him and the press. When you look up the phrase scorched Earth in the dictionary there's a picture of Polian with a lit match and can of kerosene.

That was, I'm told, partially the reason for Polian's dismissal, to change the culture of the Colts. Most importantly, however, Polian had lost the fast ball that made him so formidable. He failed to get a backup for Manning and the Colts had lost their depth. He allowed his son, Chris, to run the team when Chris never proved he deserved that kind of power.

In the end, Polian became like some of the older athletes he released: he was living on the fumes of a grand reputation.

"Just less than two years ago [we were] getting ready to play in the Super Bowl and go to Miami," Irsay said during a news conference on Monday. "Less than two years ago, cleaning off the confetti from the turf at Lucas Oil Stadium. It's been a very sharp decline. Even last year when we were getting ready to play our playoff game at 10-6 and division champs, if someone had said in this room, 'You're going to be having the No. 1 pick in the draft, and you're going to lose 13 games in a row and be 2-14' no one could have possibly believed it."

It does seem like a horrible dream.

Polian is gone but my guess is we haven't seen the last of him. He'll consult or possibly take over another franchise. He's too competitive to go out this way. Somewhere, he's not relieved.

He's mad.

He wouldn't be Bill Polian if he wasn't. Blindsided or not.

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