Bills' Polian given corporate punishment Front-office games did in veteran GM

PRO FOOTBALL

February 07, 1993|By VITO STELLINO

It's become a corporate game now. Just ask Bill Polian.

The Buffalo Bills' general manager was very good at building a football team. He wasn't very good at playing the corporate game. Which is why he's now the ex-general manager of the Bills.

Polian was sacked four days after the Bills were blown out, 52-17, in the Super Bowl by the Dallas Cowboys, but he may have been gone even if his team had won the game.

Ralph Wilson, the team owner, told him at the start of the year that he was planning to "restructure" the operation, which is the new euphemism for firing people.

We'll never know if Wilson really would have pulled the trigger if the Bills had won the game, but once they were blown out, Polian was gone.

The team announced Friday that John Butler, who had been the team's director of player personnel, will be the new general manager. But he'll have the title in name only.

The team also announced that Jerry Foran, the director of marketing and sales for the team, was the new executive vice president for administration. He'll run the business side and report to Jeff Littman, the treasurer for a company that Wilson runs in Detroit. It was Littman who pulled the strings on this move.

Littman complained that Polian's payroll was too high, even though it was only seventh in the league ($29.91 million according to NFLPA figures) on a team that went to three Super Bowls. The $617,000 salary given to defensive back Mark Kelso was singled out as one of the complaints against Polian.

It didn't help that Polian wasn't a smooth operator in the front office. He has a temper and often battled with reporters and fans as well as Littman.

As the only team official at the news conference Thursday when he announced his own firing, Polian didn't bother to put a sympathetic spin on his departure. He spoke for only four minutes, 16 seconds and departed without taking questions.

Polian thought that winning football games was enough. He found it wasn't.

OC Polian's departure leaves coach Marv Levy on the hot seat. They

were close friends who worked together in the past. Now that Polian isn't there to protect him, Levy may not last long.

Levy brings to mind the old Gene McCarthy line that a football coach has to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it's important. Armed with his Ivy League degree and his habit of quoting Winston Churchill, Levy is smart enough to understand the game, but doesn't appear to relate well to the players.

Having Jim Kelly try a sprint-out pass on fourth-and-goal from the Dallas six-inch line against a Dallas defense set for the pass also did nothing for Levy's reputation.

Keeping the Bills together in the wake of their third straight Super Bowl loss will be no easy task for Levy under any circumstances.

Doing it without his old friend Polian with him will make it even more difficult.

Two years ago, after the 20-19 loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV, Wilson called Polian and Levy, "my general manager and coach for life."

Not.

Why teams don't repeat

The last coach to win two Super Bowls in a row was Chuck Noll of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who did it twice, the second time after the 1978 and 1979 seasons.

The San Francisco 49ers won after the 1988 and 1989 seasons, but they won the second one for George Seifert after winning the first for Bill Walsh. The 49ers had the incentive of trying to prove they could win without Walsh after they got tired of Walsh acting as if he could have done it without the players.

Now it's Jimmy Johnson's turn to try it. A psychology major, Johnson's forte is motivation, and he has identified the problem. The Cowboys coach said that when teams win, the players don't think they get their share of the credit and the money. Identifying the problem and solving it, though, are two different things.

The first problem is that players think they're going to be deluged with endorsement offers. It doesn't happen. Football players are faceless types. Except for Troy Aikman, the Cowboys aren't going to get a lot of endorsements. Did you notice the athletes who did the Super Bowl commercials? They were NBA stars such as Michael Jordan and Larry Bird.

Then there's the money.

Emmitt Smith's contract is up, and he fired the first shot in the negotiations during the Pro Bowl practices in Honolulu, Hawaii.

"By far I should be the highest paid back in the NFL," he said. "I think I deserve something special. Something that will set me apart from everybody else. Something to give everyone else to go for in the future."

The highest-paid running back right now is Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions at an average of $1.79 million.

Smith hints he thinks $3 million would be a good figure.

"I definitely proved myself to the Cowboys and also to the world," Smith said. "I ought to be paid in line with my performance. If that happens, I'll be satisfied."

If he doesn't get $3 million and the Cowboys don't repeat, remember those words.

Buddy's return

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