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

THE BALTIMORE SUN

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

Houston Oilers coach Jack Pardee is still paying the price for blowing that 35-3 lead to the Bills in the playoffs.

The team's general manager, Mike Holovak, decided to bring in Buddy Ryan as the Oilers' defensive coordinator.

Ryan quickly proved that getting fired by the Philadelphia Eagles didn't mellow him. It won't take Ryan long to act as if he's running the team, not Pardee.

"Anything I want, I'll go in and sit down with Mike," Ryan said. "He's the guy who put all that talent there. If I want somebody, Mike Holovak will bust his butt to get him."

Ryan's authority -- in his eyes -- won't stop at defense.

"We're going to have some tight ends," Ryan said even though Pardee's run-and-shoot offense doesn't use tight ends. "There comes a time you have to line up and bloody people's nose."

Ryan said he only took the job when Holovak told him he could hire his own defensive staff and have a say in personnel matters.

"I'm not going to make any adjustments," Ryan said. "My philosophy wins for everybody. Everybody copies what we do."

As long as Pardee lets Ryan do whatever he wants to do, they'll get along fine.

Addition by subtraction

One of the keys to Dallas' drive to the Super Bowl was the trade with the 49ers that brought controversial defensive end Charles Haley. He added the pass rush that made their defense so effective.

But Seifert, the 49ers coach, said he has no second thoughts about the trade. In Honolulu for tonight's Pro Bowl, he said the 49ers wouldn't have been as good with him.

"I think in the long run, it was best for the chemistry of our football team, which is very important to winning games. This club was very close, kind of had fun with one another, and it enabled us to get through some tough games," he said.

Haley is so moody (among other things, he exposed himself to a woman reporter and urinated on a teammate's car) that Seifert obviously thought the team was better off without him no matter how good he is on the field. Football people are curious whether the Cowboys will keep Haley around now that they've won.

Seifert also said he'd like to keep all three quarterbacks -- Steve Young, Joe Montana and Steve Bono.

Montana has to agree to return as a backup and there's a chance he will. He's finding out that at age 36, after playing just two quarters in two years, not too many teams are willing to hand him the starting job. If he's got to be a backup, he may decide to stay put.

Factoid

Aikman and Terry Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Steelers are the only two quarterbacks to be selected No. 1 in the draft (Bradshaw in 1970 and Aikman in 1989) and win Super Bowls for their original teams. Jim Plunkett won two for the Oakland-Los Angeles Raiders, but was selected first by the New England Patriots in 1971.

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