Bill Polian is in his first season as Colts vice chairman after spending the previous 13 seasons as Colts president. Polian has a resume unique in the NFL. The only man to win NFL Executive of the Year six times, Polian in the 1980s built the Buffalo Bills into a four-time Super Bowl participant. In the mid-1990s, he built the expansion Carolina Panthers into a team that made the NFC Championship game in its second season, 1996. Since joining Indianapolis in 1998, he built the Colts from a 3-13 team in 1997 and 1998 into one that has made the playoffs 11 of the last 12 seasons, including AFC Championship game appearances after the 2003, 2006 and 2009 seasons, an AFC East title in 1999, AFC South titles in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010, Super Bowl appearances following the 2006 and 2009 seasons and a Super Bowl championship following the 2006 season. Each week during the season, in The Polian Corner, Polian and Colts.com will discuss issues pertinent to the Colts and the rest of the NFL.
The Polian Corner will run in two installments each week. Below is this week's first installment:
Q: You probably had a tough time looking at the tape of the New Orleans game, and it probably wasn't better the second time around, was it?
A: No, nor will the third or fourth time. It's a very, very difficult situation to deal with. In the end, it's one loss. As ugly as it was, you have to put it behind you. We have nine more games to play. We have to figure out a way to get the ship righted, to get back to playing reasonably good football. We did not last night on the offensive side nor the defensive side. Special teams, we did a good job, especially given (Darren) Sproles and how good he is. Frankly, we knew it was going to be a tough match-up going in. You get in a situation where you're in that building. That's the noisiest building in the league. You have a new quarterback (who is) trying to adapt the offense to what he can do. You get a team that's an awfully good blitzing team that gives you a lot of sophisticated looks with a few guys on the offensive line nicked up. It makes for a difficult match-up to begin with. I can discuss some of that in detail if fans have questions. The baffling thing is defense. They're (the Saints) good, there's no question about that. It's a tough match-up for us because Drew (Brees) gets the ball out of his hands so quickly. You know you're going to be faced with some situations where they're tough to defense. To play as poorly as we played with good effort is baffling, quite honestly. It's really difficult for me to get a handle on that. If you weren't getting effort, that would be one thing. Those guys are playing their hearts out, and just not getting anything done. It's really difficult to fathom. It's something we have to pay very, very close attention to. We can handle the offensive side of it, I do believe. Jim Caldwell does, too. It's the defensive part we have to get straightened out. At this stage of the game, I don't have any answers. I have a lot of questions, but no answers at this point, unfortunately.
Q: Do you have a handle on if it's players or scheme at this point?
A: The players are playing hard, I will tell you that. There's no two ways about that. They play as hard as they can play. They give everything they've got. There are mental errors. There are breakdowns. There are coverage miscues. We're 30th or below in the league in every significant defensive category. I don't know what to tell you, other than I know what the results are. The question is how do we change that? We have to take a hard look at that.
Q: Does youth come into the problems the team is having defensively? Is it a lack of experience?
A: I don't think so, I really don't. Everybody has injuries. Everybody has people who are out. If you were to lose Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis, that's one thing. Our safety play has been fine. Maybe they're not on top of every single nuance and detail. For example, is a young safety who is playing his first ballgame in that atmosphere with the defense getting pummeled, is he going to recognize the likelihood of Sproles getting the ball when he's in the game? Is there a high likelihood of that? No. That's perfectly understandable. Does the young corner align at the right alignment all the time based on down-and-distance in that type of an atmosphere, especially when runs are getting out and he's getting pummeled and having to tackle the likes of (Mark) Ingram and company? No, probably not. You can make a mistake there. That doesn't account for 62 points. We have to get that figured out. I know Jim Caldwell has his eyes directly on it, so do we. We'll see if we can't shore that up somehow with personnel, and we have to look at other areas, too.
Q: Can you talk about Kent Hull, the former Buffalo Bill who passed away last week at age 51? He was close to a number of people in addition to you, guys like Frank Reich, Will Wolford and Pete Metzelaars.
A: That group in Buffalo is very close. It probably was the last team before free agency that won a lot and where people stayed together. I was the first one to leave, really. I was there for nine years, and everybody else stay longer than that. Those fellows were very close. Their wives and children were very close. There was a bond there that really doesn't exist in today's free agency. I was at the funeral and got a chance to talk to everybody. There were probably 20 former Bills at the funeral, including all of his offensive line teammates. Everybody reminisced about how close we were and how much fun those days were. I think it's apropos of what you said in that at this time in their lives all those guys come back to say goodbye to the first of their teammates to go at far too early an age. Kent Hull was the undisputed leader in the locker room, if you will, and that's a term you know I don't like. Inside the building, Kent Hull was right up there with Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith. He was one of the most, if not the most, respected voices in the building. He didn't say a lot. In many respects he was John Wayne. He did his talking with his body, with his actions and his preparation. He was one, tough hombre. He played 189 straight games at center. Ironically enough, Jim Kelly and Kent Hull held the record for most quarterback-center starts, until it was broken by Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday. What a lucky guy I am to have been around those guys. It was a sad, sad day. It was, in many ways, a happy day because we were able to remember and celebrate the life of a guy who everybody admired. I said to one of Kent's family members, to have as your epithet, albeit that you've gone far too soon, that you had the respect and affection of everybody you worked and played with, and against, is quite something. That's a legacy that's second to none.
Q: I am a fan who is not reacting to the reaction of many who are doing it with how the team has started. I think the team has a lot to give and there are nine games left to play. That is a lot of football.
A: The most difficult part of this process we're going through, this journey we're going through, is that these guys, almost to a man, are terrific guys. They give 100 percent all the time. That's rare in professional athletics. They're going 100 miles per hour all the time. They practice hard, they work hard. They don't get any reward for it, and it's hard to keep that going. Jim Caldwell has done a great job keeping them focused, keeping them in the picture and in the moment and doing what they can do. I appreciate the kind words, and I know the players do, too. I will say this and I've said this before in the context of winning but it's even more the case when you're not winning, there are no answers out there among the 'talking heads.' There aren't any answers. There are no suggestions that will help. There are none that will hurt. They have no effect. It's entertainment, and it's fine and that's great. I really don't pay much attention to it. There's going to be no improvement or no answers or no way to get this team better that's coming from anything that's said or written. Where it has to come from is in this building. From Chris' (Polian) office, from my office, from Tom Telesco's (office), from all the coaches, from everybody who touches the team, we're the ones who are going to have to come up with solutions and try to find a way to get this team better. As I said at the outset, I think the coach has a very good handle on how we can do some things offensively that will help. That may, in the long run, help us be more efficient. The defense has been on the field far too long. We've played on average 12 plays more than our opponents per game. That takes its toll, especially when you play as hard as we do. These guys take a beating. We have to address that issue among many others on defense. The solution lies in here (in the building). All that's written or said has no consequence. What is of consequence is we have to continue to work. We have to continue to believe that we're on the right track, that we can do positive things. You don't shrug a loss like this off. We're professionals. No one wants to be embarrassed, any more than an actor or a writer or anyone else would want to be embarrassed in public. You go out there and try to do what you can do. When it becomes embarrassing, then that's difficult to swallow. You take the bad with the good in this business. You know there's going to be plenty of bad. You just shrug it off the keep moving. We have to do the fundamental things it takes to win. Tony (Dungy) always echoes his (Pittsburgh) coach, Chuck Noll, and I always echo my (Buffalo) coach, Marv Levy, in saying, 'When things go wrong, do less. Concentrate more on fundamentals. Concentrate on the things that you can do well, not the things that people think you ought to do well.' If we do that, then we'll start to play better football.
Q: How would you try to motivate the coaches to do better? What advice would you give them?
A: If I had a magic elixir that I could give everybody in the building, I would do it, believe me. Unfortunately, I don't. I think that what I just said prior to your call in there lies the answer. It's not my wisdom, it's the wisdom of two guys who have been to eight Super Bowls between them, Chuck Noll and Marv Levy, and Tony Dungy, who's won one (Super Bowl). When things go wrong, as they obviously have for us, do less, don't do more. Concentrate much more on fundamentals. Jim Caldwell has correctly identified the fact that we have to get some life back into our team in terms of physical freshness, not mental freshness. We're fine in that regard. They're trying hard, they're giving it everything they have. They were, to use the phrase of one of our coaches today, a play behind last night. They were somewhat sluggish. That's usually a sign of fatigue. I think defensively we certainly are fatigued. We've been out there far too long in virtually every game. Some of that is our own fault because we're not getting off the field. Bottom line, we have to get them fresher. We have to get some life back into their legs. We need to concentrate on mastering very, very obvious fundamentals. If we do that, we can take a step in the right direction. That's what we need to do next week, take a step in the right direction. To get out of one of these troughs that we're in, believe it or not, you cannot concentrate on winning or losing. This comes not from me, by the way, but from Coach John Wooden, who's acknowledged as perhaps the greatest coach in any sport of all-time. You don't focus on the end result, you focus on the process. Focus on getting better in your department, in your area, in your type of play in very, very small increments. Concentrate on the minutest of fundamentals. When you put that all together and couple that with the effort we show every week, which by the way is a credit to the head coach, in the long run the wins will come. If you focus on the wins, then you begin to press. Then you make mistakes that detract from winning. A very interesting statistic is we have fumbled the ball nine times. That's way, way out of character for us. That's more than one a game. We don't do that. We never have done that. Why are we doing it? Are we careless with the football? No, we're not careless with the football. We're pressing. We're trying to make plays. Pierre Garcon's fumble last week (at Cincinnati) being the prime example. We're doing things that violate the basic fundamentals we teach. As a result, the outcome is less than what you would like. That sounds very counterintuitive. I believe firmly, as do all of those coaches I cited, with outstanding results I might add, that that's the way to be successful. That's what we have to do.
Bob Lamey: Tony Dungy brought up last week about in 2006 when we got beat by Jacksonville, we practiced on the little things and we won the Super Bowl.
A: It's a tried and true philosophy. It's in our genes here. It's what we do, and it's what we will go back to doing.
Q: Can anything positive be taken from the New Orleans game?
A: Well, that is a very good question. Coach (Don) Shula always used to say that whenever you go out there and play, you must take something positive from it. I would say the positive of last night was the play of our punt team. You've got a very dangerous, game-breaking guy back there in Darren Sproles, who's done it to us on more than a few occasions. Pat McAfee punted the ball in an outstanding manner. We covered those punts in an outstanding manner, and we made sure that we tackled him. There was one run that got out but that was all, and that's a victory with Sproles. If we can do that against Darren Sproles then you say to yourself, 'Hey, you can do that every week.' It just requires concentration and attention to detail and focus. That was a real positive. I felt very good about that. I also, I said this at the top of the show so excuse me for repeating myself, I don't find any fault with the effort of our defense. Those guys are out there giving it everything they've got. There is no quit in them. There is no back-off in them. They hit just as hard at the end of the game as they did in the beginning, so it's very frustrating for them and for all the rest of us that you get zero results. The effort that they made is the positive that you take away from there. The other stuff we've got to get cleaned up.