For all the credit Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian gets for putting together a mean NFL roster and an unparallel on-field record over the last decade, that may be the easiest part of his job.
Polian over the last 12 years has largely been the face of the Colts franchise, answering difficult—and sometimes dumb—questions from the media and dealing with a fan base that vacillates between content and less than thrilled.
Through his weekly radio show, TV appearances and regular press conferences, Polian has developed a skill for knowing which questions to answer, which to end-run and which to just plain take a pass on.
Polian is often put in a position of having to defend Colts’ coaches and owner Jim Irsay on everything from game-time calls to draft decisions, player salaries and the team’s stance on not joining the Capital Improvement Board bailout.
No one would argue that Polian has the best bed-side manner. That’s not part of his brand. But as long as he’s fielding Super Bowl contenders, the Horseshoe Kingdom is willing to weather whatever he’s shoveling.
Whether you think he’s right or wrong, you have to credit Polian—not Irsay—as the one who most often faces the firing squad when times are toughest. That’s the exception rather than the rule in the NFL, where owners like Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder often can’t get out of their own way.
Part of Polian’s legacy will center on his willingness and ability to keep Irsay’s image relatively clean, while having no compunction about sullying his own when necessary.
It takes a unique person and personality to be able to serve as that kind of president.
So that leads to my next question. If Chris Polian is going to be the Colts’ next great leader, when is he going to be trotted out as the face of the franchise? And does he have the skill set needed for that end of the job?
The answer is, no one knows. But it’s probably time for the Colts to usher Chris out from behind the blue curtain to find out.
Chris Polian, the son of Bill Polian, is by all accounts his dad’s equal when it comes to eyeing talent and putting together a roster. But we have no idea what kind of leader he will be. I can tell you from my sit down interview with Chris in 2008, he has a very, very different personality than his dad’s.
Chris has been with the Colts since 1998, serving in just about every role in the team’s scouting department. Now, along with his dad and the team’s coach, he is one of three guys whose opinion matters on draft day.
Certainly, Irsay has designs on replacing Bill Polian with Chris Polian at some point. Several teams have come calling in the past two years—interested in hiring Chris Polian, 38, as their president. Irsay has chased them all away, giving Chris Polian a promotion and a hefty pay raise.
Expect Bill Polian to be the team’s president at least the next two seasons. His contract runs through 2011. But he’s a lot closer to 70 than 60. And while Howard Mudd and Tom Moore have redefined what can be done in pro football after the age of 65, they don’t face near the day-in-day-out pressure Bill Polian does.
Since Bill Polian’s act has worn a little thin (for various reasons) on the local fan base this year, maybe it’s the right time for Chris to start sharing center stage. It’s time Chris Polian finds out that being an effective team president is about more than making the right personnel decisions. Like it or not, it’s also part sales, part marketing and part fan-relationship building.
Maybe Chris Polian isn’t ready for his own radio show—or to answer questions about the team’s take from Lucas Oil Stadium revenue, but it’s time he starts fielding some of those tricky press inquiries. It’s time he start pondering how to address a sometimes hostile fan base. It’s time he step out from the shadows and into the limelight.
Because his future—and the Colts’ future in this town—depends on it.
In the end, there’s no end run around that.