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Bill Polian Goes Behind The Scenes In Colts' Search For Next Head Coach

Posted Jan 4, 2018

Indianapolis Colts great general manager Bill Polian on Thursday joined 1070 The Fan's Dan Dakich to discuss the team's opening at head coach, and the behind-the-scenes details during the hiring process.

INDIANAPOLIS — Bill Polian is a Pro Football Hall of Famer for a reason.

During his illustrious NFL career, Polian was tasked with hiring numerous head coaches, many of whom went on to lead their franchises to greatness.

Take Tony Dungy, for example. In January 2002, Dungy was fired as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but just eight days later, he was swooped up by Polian and the Colts to be their next leader.

But why? Sure, Dungy talked a nice game during the lengthy interview process, but Polian said it was his specific vision — how his team was going to play, how it was going to look and how it was going to act — that made the decision to hire Dungy an easy one.

Polian on Thursday joined 1070 The Fan's Dan Dakich to give his insight into the Colts' current head coach search being led by general manager Chris Ballard, and relayed several parallels to that critical juncture for the franchise back in 2002.

You can listen to the entire interview by clicking here, but here are some of the specific comments from Polian about the Colts' current search, with some behind-the-scenes details about what could be going through Ballard and team owner Jim Irsay's minds as they interview various candidates for the job:

How important is it to have a previous relationship with a coaching candidate?


“It’s important. It’s a factor. If you have a previous relationship, you know the person well, you’ve worked with them, you know what their style is, you know how you interact with them. So it is an important factor — it’s not the only one, and it’s important for all of your listeners to understand that this process appears, if you read the blog sites and other places on the internet and sometimes even in the print media, this process appears pro forma. It is not at all. That’s why there is a process. That’s why you do interviews. I’ll take you back at the time that we interviewed Tony Dungy: I went through the process of interviewing six candidates, which, by the way, in my mind, in retrospect, was one too many, but that’s logistics. During that process Jim Irsay was kept up to date on a daily basis by me. I was conducting the interviews, and then I would report back to him in the evening for lengthy conversations — essentially playbacks of the important issues that we discussed. And at one point he said to me, ‘You know, I’m hearing rumors that Tony Dungy might get fired in Tampa Bay.’ And I said, ‘Well if that’s the case, then all bets are off. And he said, ‘Yeah, I agree with you,’ and we went right on going through the process. And at the time that Tony was released by the Bucs, we really had narrowed it down to about two candidates and still hadn’t decided on that point, and they probably were going to come back for a second round of interview with the so-called finalists. So it is a process. It’s important — knowing someone is part of that process, and it’s an important part of their process, but it’s far from dispositive.”


Can you be “wowed” by a candidate during an interview?


“Well, it depends on what your definition of ‘Wowed’ is. If you’re an experienced person, and the Colts’ general manager now absolutely is — and Jim Irsay absolutely is — you could get wowed for the right reasons, because you realize that this man has all the qualifications that you’re looking for, the temperament is right, the system is right, that the approach to football is right, that the choice of assistant coaches is right. That can happen, and has happened. If you get wowed because of a presentation (instead of) the facts, that doesn’t happen to experienced people. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen in the business — it does quite a bit — but it doesn’t happened to experienced professionals. … Substance, if you get wowed by substance — that’s perfectly OK. If you get wowed by style, you’re almost always wrong.”


A fit is a fit regardless — the “shiny thing” isn’t always the best thing, right?


“They’re going to try and find the best guy for them. The best guy for them isn’t the best guy that somebody on television or radio or in print thinks is the best guy. The best guy for them is not somebody with a pedigree that everybody thinks is terrific. The best guy for them is the person that best fits their vision of how they want to operate the franchise. I happened to be the best person for Jim Irsay when he hired me, Tony Dungy happened to be the best person, as was Jim Caldwell, when we hired both of those men. It’s because of the fit for the franchise and how you want the franchise to operate, and that’s different from franchise to franchise. But Jim Irsay’s value system, and Chris Ballard’s value system, are directly related to the value system that Tony and I espoused for all those years. So when I look at what’s going on there, it looks very familiar Why? Because Jim Irsay’s football value system hasn’t changed. Sometimes you make mistakes on players — that happens all the time — sometimes you make mistakes on coaches — that happens all the time — but I can assure you that as long as Jim Irsay and Chris Ballard are making the decision and not getting inputs from people that really don’t know what they’re talking about, which they won’t, the bottom line is that they’ll make the right decision for them. And that’s the only decision that counts.”


Can you look a candidate in the eye and tell they’re the right person for the job?

“I call it vision rather than the look in their eye. What you’re looking for is a guy who has a vision for what he thinks your team should look and play like three years down the road. Because it’s going to take him three years to establish a program. So, ‘Three years down the road, here is what I believe, Mr. Irsay, Mr. Ballard, that this time can, should and will be.’ That’s the most important answer the guy can give you. You build follow-on questions from there, but that’s the most important answer. And you spend, at least in my view, very little time discussing the past. If a guy’s been a head coach in the past, his answer as to vision is going to reflect that as opposed to one who hasn’t been a head coach. And you simply know that if a guy’s been a head coach in the past, unless there’s some untoward situation that he’s been in — and one of the named candidates obviously had one of those — but other than that, you know he can sit down at his desk and his list of to-do things — there’s no learning for curve; he knows exactly what’s going to happen. So that’s why it’s so important to have previous experience, all things being equal — they almost never are, but all things being equal, previous head coaching experience is good. But the most important thing is what is the guy’s vision for what your team can be. When I sat down and talked with Tony Dungy in Tampa — he says it went nine hours, it seems like it was five or six to me, but, you know, we were having a great time, so who cares how long it took? — but when he said, ‘Here’s how I believe the Colts can win, and this is how I plan to do it,’ right then and there, I said, ‘That’s it. We’re going to talk now about detail and how we work and how we set things up.’ If 30 percent of that interview was what do we do tomorrow when you get into Indianapolis, ‘cause once he told me what his vision was, and how he thought this team should play and look and act, I knew this was our guy.”


How do you believe in what one candidate is saying over another if their answers are generally the same?


“Obviously Tony had credibility having already done it. If you have questions, you can test that believability by your questions, and that goes back to what we discussed at the beginning of this interview: the process is important, because the questions that you ask and the dialogue that you have, and the interaction that you have, tests whether or not this guy is really sincere in his beliefs. And you can ask questions accordingly, and the written documentation that he provides to you ahead of time gives you fodder for those questions. It’s important. It’s not pro forma. It’s not going out to dinner and looking in his eyes and saying, ‘By god, I know this guy’s (it).’ It’s not that at all.”
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