INDIANAPOLIS — If you're an NFL team looking for a new general manager, then getting Bill Polian's take is always a good idea.
But if you're the Indianapolis Colts and you're in need of a new GM, well, there's likely no better source of information, and advice, than this particular Hall of Famer.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Colts team Owner Jim Irsay has been doing just that. After announcing that the team had parted ways with general manager Ryan Grigson on Saturday, Irsay said Polian — the great Colts general manager from 1997 to 2011 — has been a trusted sounding board as the team looks to head in another direction from a personnel standpoint.
The two took time particularly during the Colts' Week 17 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars — one in which Polian was inducted into the team's Ring of Honor — to go over various options and potential plans moving forward, Irsay said.
"Bill has been great," Irsay said. "Him and I have had long conversations. We enjoyed the second half of the Jaguar game together and we've had long conversations about the construct of a football team and how you put it together and what is the best way in terms of a general manager and how seasoned he has to be."
Polian built his career out of finding and maximizing talent. He started in the NFL as a pro scout with the Kansas City Chiefs from 1978 to 1982 before becoming the Buffalo Bills' Pro Personnel Director in 1984. Just two years later, the Bills promoted Polian to be their general manager, a spot he would hold until 1992.
Not coincidentally, the talent Polian was able to collect in New York led to the team's greatest era, as the Bills would make the Super Bowl in each of Polian's last three years with the organization, and once again in 1993, when Polian had taken a league job.
From there, Polian moved to the expansion Carolina Panthers, where he built almost an immediate winner. By Year 2, the Panthers had advanced all the way to the NFC Championship Game. That résumé was more than enough for Irsay, who hired Polian as the Colts' general manager in 1997.
In 1998, Polian made perhaps the most important decision of his career: he took quarterback Peyton Manning out of Tennessee with the No. 1-overall pick in the NFL Draft. It wouldn't take long for a historic run of success to follow, including 11 playoff appearances, eight division titles, two AFC championships and, of course, winning it all in Super Bowl XLI.
A six-time NFL Executive of the Year recipient, Polian was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.
As the Colts enter a new chapter, Irsay said Polian's advice has been paramount. And while Polian likely won't return to the team in any official capacity, Irsay joked that "maybe he'll send me a consultant fee — I'm not sure."
"Him and I have talked a great deal; we're great friends," Irsay said. "He's been great. I think he's comfortable in his gold jacket, but he's been very, very helpful in terms of us talking. We always love talking football together."
What exactly has Polian told Irsay about the Colts' now-open general manager position? Well, that has stayed between them, but Irsay said he already has a short list of candidates — including current Colts Vice President of Football Operations Jimmy Raye III — and that he'll keep an open mind throughout the process to include candidates both young and green, as well as the more experienced personnel folks.
Polian's method was to stick to his plan and ignore the outside chatter. Many believed the team should've taken Ryan Leaf, and not Manning, with the No. 1-overall pick in 1998. Many believed the Colts should've taken Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams, and not Edgerrin James, the following year. Many believed the Colts took a gamble on edge rusher Dwight Freeney with the No. 11-overall pick in the 2011 Draft.
Had Polian listened to those outsiders, perhaps the team wouldn't have had its most successful decade ever.
"Yeah, none of them were difficult," Polian told Colts.com's Matt Taylor and Kevin Bowen in December about those decisions. "When you did all the scouting work, and you put onto the player the values that we felt were very important to putting together a team where the whole would be greater than the sum of the parts, every single one of those players that you mentioned — and many more — fit our mold completely.
"And we never cared about what the pundits said. We never cared what the draft grade was," Polian continued. "One of my standard lines was, 'Give me a 'C' every year, and I'll 'see' you in the playoffs.' It worked. You bet it worked. Because we knew what worked for us. … We knew what worked for us, we knew what our template was, we knew what kind of people we wanted, we knew what they would add to the equation, and, to tell you the truth, they exceeded our expectations."
When it comes to building a roster — building a team — Polian said, especially in Indianapolis under an owner like Irsay, "it starts and ends with the people."
You can bet this will be important for whoever is hired as the next Colts general manager.
"Jim made it clear that he wanted the Horseshoe to represent something special," Polian said. "He wanted it to represent the values of the community in which we lived and worked."
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