Marv Levy: Bears couldn’t have picked a better consultant than Bill Polian
The former Bills head coach said his hometown team — he grew up at the corner of 71st Street and Stony Island Avenue on the South Side — is in good hands.
The admiration between Marv Levy and Bill Polian is such that each man was the presenting speaker at their respective Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinements: Levy in 2001 and Polian in 2015.
So it was no surprise Tuesday to hear Levy touting the man hired to guide the Bears through their dual coaching and general manager searches.
“The Bears could not — could not — have picked a better person for that search than Bill,” Levy said. “I’ve known a lot of people in all my years in the game. I grew up in Chicago as a kid way back in the ’30s, as a Bears fan. Bill Polian to me is the keenest mind in the game. I was so grateful to be able to work with Bill in every respect. He has respect for everybody in the organization. He answers to the owners. The insights he has are just unbelievable.”
At 96 years old, the former Chiefs and Bills head coach is still as sharp as a No. 2 pencil on the first day of school. Speaking on the phone from his home across from Lincoln Park’s North Pond, Levy said his hometown team — he grew up at the corner of 71st Street and Stony Island Avenue on the South Side — is in good hands.
There may be no one walking the earth who can give a better testimonial about Polian, whom the Bears hired as an adviser before firing GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy and last week tasked with steering chairman George McCaskey toward their replacements.
Levy and Polian first met in 1976 when Levy was the head coach of the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes. The team’s lone front-office employee convinced the team’s owner to hire part-time employees — including Polian — to scout NFL training camps. His scouting reports were so detailed that Levy insisted on expanding Polian’s responsibilities. When Levy was named Chiefs head coach in 1978, he convinced them to bring on Polian as a scout.
“He not only was good, he was personable,” Levy said. “He cared about everybody in the organization.”
The two worked for the USFL’s Chicago Blitz during their ill-fated 1984 season. Finances were so bad that the owners ditched the team after two games and forced the league to take it over; Levy once claimed he and Polian had to buy toilet paper for the bathrooms at the practice facility.
Polian became the Bills’ general manager in 1986 and hired Levy that November. In 1990, the Bills won the first of four consecutive AFC championships, though they never captured a Super Bowl title.
“His knowledge of what to do, his method of evaluating, his personality, his caring about everybody in the organization . . . he’s fantastic . . .” Levy said. “He evaluates a person’s work ethic, character, and the other person’s getting the best out of the people not just from himself, but from the person whom he works with.”
Levy pointed to the other coaches Polian helped develop. He hired Tony Dungy in Indianapolis — the two won a Super Bowl together. Levy said Polian encouraged Frank Reich, a onetime Bills backup quarterback, to pursue coaching — he’s the current Colts head coach.
“There’s so many other [examples],” he said. “He’s one of a kind, I’ll tell you that. He cares about people. He cares about total organization. He takes responsibility when something goes wrong. His ability to analyze the work ethic of other people is truly amazing.”
The two talk a couple times per month on the phone. When Polian first started consulting for the Bears, Levy called to chat. He joked that Polian “is not going to be counseling me” on whom to hire, but he’s sure he’ll get a breakdown when it’s all over.
Jokingly, Levy was asked if Polian wanted the 96-year-old to be the Bears’ head coach.
“He hasn’t made the offer,” he said, laughing. “If he does, I’ll take it.”
Levy — who served as the Bills’ GM from 2006-07 — didn’t want to offer an opinion on whom the Bears should hire.
“I think I’d be faking it too much,” he said. “I follow them but I’m not on top of them. I’ve followed the Bills a little closer.”
Still beloved in Western New York and close with Bills head coach Sean McDermott, Levy said he was “delighted” to watch the Bills’ 47-17 win against the Patriots on television Saturday, the first step toward their elusive first Super Bowl title. If the Bills can somehow host the AFC title game — they need to beat the Chiefs and the Bengals must upset the Titans this weekend — Levy will go to Buffalo. The Bills have already invited him to give a pep talk before the game.
The Bears already interviewed Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and plan to talk to Buffalo defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, a member of the 1985 Super Bowl team, later this week.
Asked about the Bills coordinators, Levy didn’t want to single out a specific coach. Besides, that’s not his job — it’s Polian’s.
“The guy that’s gonna help do it is Bill,” Levy said. “And he’ll study it like he’s going for his master’s degree.”