The Jan. 2 firings of Bill Polian as Indianapolis Colts vice chairman and his son, Chris, as vice president and general manager of the team, show how succession plans can take a 180-degree turn. The Colts’ most high-profile personnel move since drafting Peyton Manning also highlights the pitfalls of family relationships in the executive suite.
In an interview with IBJ in April 2008, team owner Jim Irsay sang the praises of the younger Polian, making clear he was the heir apparent to his dad as the team’s top executive.
Indeed, Chris Polian, who was then the Colts’ vice president of football operations, was a hot commodity. The San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons had all inquired about hiring him as their general manager. Each time, the Colts swatted away their advances in an effort to protect the one who was seen then as the future of the team’s front office.
Four seasons later, three of which produced 10 wins or more, Chris Polian is gone, along with his dad. If the younger Polian was really making decisions for the franchise, surely he’ll land a GM job with another NFL team in spite of the Colts’ 2-14 finish this season.
The trick for the team that hires him is to evaluate his skill as an NFL executive apart from his father, for whom he’s worked since he broke into the league in 1994.
No one can argue with the outstanding results the Colts saw under the Polians. But regardless of who replaces them—or how new management fares—the franchise will now operate without the layer of complexity that comes with having leadership shared by father and son.
The Chicago challenge
We believe Indiana Sports Corp. officials when they say they won’t change much in response to Chicago’s plans to become more competitive in going after some of the same sporting events that drive tourism to Indianapolis.
Competing with Chicago is nothing new, after all. Battles for Big Ten championships have become commonplace, with Indianapolis typically coming out on top thanks to our compact downtown and effective execution.
But we hope the Chicago initiative is a wake-up call of sorts for locals who have seemed to take a blasé attitude toward some of the facilities that launched the sports initiative here decades ago. The track and field stadium at IUPUI seemed to be on the way out until a plan to preserve it was announced last year. The Natatorium awaits upgrades. And the skating rinks at Pan Am Plaza that draw amateur events and serve as a training site for Olympians is still in danger. The tennis center that once drew the game’s brightest stars is already history.
Maintaining a variety of high-caliber sports venues should be a priority, especially in light of Chicago’s plans to hone its amateur sports credentials.•
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