Peyton Manning said he was "surprised, shocked [and] disappointed" at the firing of Colts vice chairman Bill Polian and general manager Chris Polian.
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The father and son were let go by owner Jim Irsay on Monday afternoon, a day after the Colts closed out an abysmal 2-14 season — without their franchise quarterback — with a 19-13 loss at Jacksonville.
Manning, sidelined all year after a run of neck surgeries, was meeting with Bill Polian to discuss his ongoing rehab schedule when the vice chairman was summoned to Irsay’s office.
Neither man was expecting what came next.
"I don’t want to speak for Bill, but I did meet with him and he is [shocked] as well," the four-time NFL MVP told The Indianapolis Star. "It’s a sad day and it’s the worst part about this business. I’m sorry that it went down this way."
Manning added, "I always thought Bill and I might retire around the same time. You kind of hoped for that fairytale ending, after winning a Super Bowl."
Their relationship started in April 1998 when Polian used his first draft pick to make the Tennessee quarterback a Colt. Manning said Polian was instrumental in helping him settle with the franchise to which he has devoted his pro career.
"I’d be the first to tell you that had Bill not been here when I was coming out for the draft, I’m not sure how I would have felt about coming to Indianapolis," he told The Star.
"He was just an unbelievable draw to come play for the Indianapolis Colts," Manning said. "To me, he defines loyalty. I’ll be forever indebted for what he did for me and my career."
Irsay said Monday a decision over coach Jim Caldwell was not likely until a new general manager has been installed. Caldwell responded, saying he was "responsible for every single one of [the 14] losses" this season but would "love" to be part of the future.
"Plain and simple, love what I do, love the team, the organization," Caldwell said. "Think we’ve got a good nucleus to get things rolling back on track where we were before. Love to be part of it."
Indianapolis’ failure on the field at least was rewarded with the No. 1 pick, with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck expected to be selected as, what the Colts hope will be, the long-term heir to Manning.