That might be the worst pun I’ve ever tried in an article title, but it’s the offseason. Take what you can get.
I’ve updated the article about Bill Polian and the Hall of Fame with stats running through the 2009 season. The most impressive stat about Polian is that in 21 years, his teams have been to 5 Super Bowls and he’s had only 5 losing teams. In other words, with Polian running the show, a team is as likely to make the Super Bowl as it is have a losing year.
In light of last week’s article about how the Colts would finish with an average quarterback, a reader asked a fair question: “If the Colts are so average without Manning, why does Polian get praised so much?”. Let me address that here.
1. The Colts started out the year with more talent than they finished it. Indy lost a starting corner, a staring linebacker, their star safety, their kicker, and their number two receiver. They also battled a myriad of other injuries throughout the year losing the second most games in football to injury. So when we say that Manning had to carry the team, that wasn’t entirely by design. Now, if someone wants to criticize the GM for injuries, that’s shaky ground. Although in the case of the Colts, they’ve been among the league leaders in injuries for several years, and some of that has been due to Bob Sanders who was an injury risk from draft day on. The bottom line is that had the Colts not had such a wave of injuries, the ‘average quarterback’ article wouldn’t have been so necessary. Indy’s starting 22 is awesome and loaded with talent. We just don’t get to see that starting 22 very often.
2. Polian drafted Manning. He chose to build his team for maximum success. No one can argue that the Colts have been extremely successful with this system. Polian gets credit because his team DOESN’T have a David Garrard or Matt Cassel at QB. The selection of Manning was far from a no brainer, and Polian was criticized by many for taking Manning. Because of that, it’s only fair to praise him for his choice. Does Manning make everyone around him look better, including the GM? Sure. That’s why you draft guys like Manning. They make you look like a genius. Polian would be the first to admit that.
3. Polian’s weak spot is also the Colts’. Indy’s weakest unit is the offensive line. Anyone who watched the team knows the Colts O line struggled despite good protection numbers. Polian has freely admitted that he struggles as a talent evaluator to judge O-linemen. Indy has drafted two linemen in the second round in three years, and five linemen in the last three years. None of them have become starters for a team with a notably poor line. It is entirely fair to criticize Polian for this, but he largely gets a pass for drafting a quarterback who can succeed with a dicey line.
4. Polian built the entire team. There is no one on the Colts’ roster who wasn’t put there by Polian. That’s a rare thing in the NFL. More than that, almost every player was drafted by Polian. Even on successful teams, there are often players that are hold overs from old regimes. Polian has been in Indy 12 years. Everyone on the Colts is one of his players.
5. The bottom line is winning. A GM isn’t judged by how much talent his team has, but whether or not they win. The Colts win every year, never missing the playoffs (in large part thanks to Manning), so the GM gets credit. Polian built the team. The team wins. EVERY YEAR. Regardless of what flaws it might have or how it would do without Manning, the fact is that Manning IS on this team, so Polian rightfully deserves credit.
The Colts have been rolling the dice for years by not having a backup quarterback. Seemingly every guy on the roster gets hurt EXCEPT for Manning. If he were to go down with an injury, and Polian tried to win games with Sorgi or Painter, he’d get crushed because everyone would see how thin the Colts are.
The Colts are the anti-Patriots. New England runs a ‘plug and play’ system. The system matters more than the players. Take away their best player? No problem, they still win 11 games. The Colts have built their system entirely around Manning. Take him away, and they have nothing. It is debatable which is the better method. The Pats had more success in the past before teams had figured out the system. Now, the system is a decade old and showing signs of cracks as the league has adjusted. The Pats ‘draft accumen’ has taken hits in recent years, but it may just be because the schemes which once were so dominant no longer are. They aren’t really any worse at picking players than before, they just aren’t as good at using them. Meanwhile, the Colts’ method will continue to be successful as long as Manning stays upright. If he declines, however, the house of cards will tumble, and Polian will have to pick up the pieces.
Ultimately, when you go to 5 Super Bowls in 21 years and have just 5 losing seasons, you earn the right to do things however you see fit.
As long as he keeps winning, people will keep praising him. As they should.
He’s the best GM in the game. Hands down.