Gold Jacket Spotlight: Master Builder Bill Polian

Gold Jacket Spotlight: Master Builder Bill Polian

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With the Buffalo Bills, Bill Polian assembled teams that appeared in four consecutive Super Bowls.

With the Carolina Panthers, he built a roster that went 7-9 in its first year of existence, then 12-4 in Year 2, winning its division and reaching the NFC Championship Game.

Over his 14 seasons in Indianapolis, the Colts finished first in their division eight times and made two appearances in the Super Bowl, including a 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.

The Sporting News named Bill its NFL Executive of the Year a record six times.

His thoughts on all that success as a team architect?

“A general manager really doesn’t do anything,” he told an interviewer shortly after his autobiography was published in 2014. “It is the players and coaches who do it.”


But to paraphrase Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, for a coach to cook a good meal, someone has to buy good groceries.

For three successful franchises, that person was Bill Polian, who this week steps into the Gold Jacket Spotlight.

In 22 seasons as an NFL general manager or team president with Indianapolis, Carolina and Buffalo, Bill’s teams played in eight conference championship games and made six Super Bowl appearances (Super Bowls XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII, XLI, XLIV). Those teams combined for a regular-season record of 228-139, with 13 seasons of 11 or more victories.

Among the many players who Bill drafted, obtained by trades or signed as free agents are a who’s who of Pro Football Hall of Famers: Kevin Greene, Edgerrin James, Jim Kelly, Marvin Harrison, James Lofton, Peyton Manning, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith and Thurman Thomas. His coaches included Hall of Famers Marv Levy and Tony Dungy.

Bill began his 32-year NFL career as a scout for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1978. He joined the Bills in 1984 after brief stints in the Canadian Football League (Montreal and Winnipeg) and in the USFL with the Chicago Blitz.

He also worked in the League office in 1993 and 1994 as Vice President of Football Development before being named general manager of the expansion Panthers.

In 1998, Bill joined the Colts, serving as president and/or general manager through the 2011 season.

These days, Bill can be heard on SiriusXM NFL Radio, where he provides keen insights on the NFL Draft, Combine and salary cap in addition to in-season player and team evaluations. He’s also a member of the Hall of Fame’s Selection Committee and participated on the Blue-Ribbon Panel that chose the Centennial Class of 2020.

“I have some experience I can share with people,” he told the podcast One Bills Live in a 2020 interview, “and that’s fun.”

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