Colts owner Jim Irsay made the stunning decision to hire former Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday as the team’s interim head coach over the advice of his team’s top executives, who tried to talk Irsay out of it, per sources.
It was the latest power move by the passionate and sometimes impulsive Irsay, who also drove the benching of veteran quarterback Matt Ryan two weeks before Irsay fired head coach Frank Reich on Nov. 7, per sources.
A member of the Colts’ ring of honor and Super Bowl XLI-winning team, Saturday had never coached above the high school level and most recently was employed by ESPN as a TV analyst. He does have natural leadership traits, which sources say have already shown through as Saturday navigated an unprecedented situation with coaches and players in preparing the team for today’s game against the Raiders in Las Vegas.
But the unorthodox hire was met with intense scrutiny, both inside and outside the building.
Colts president Pete Ward and general manager Chris Ballard, among others, spoke with Irsay and expressed their reservations, sources say. The Colts have former head coaches John Fox and Gus Bradley on staff, as well as a rising star in special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone. But sources say Irsay was hellbent on hiring Saturday, who revealed that Irsay called him during a last Sunday’s loss to the Patriots to ask about Indianapolis’ problems on the offensive line.
Within 24 hours, Irsay called Reich — the owner stayed behind in the Boston area after the game — to inform him that he was being let go. Ballard addressed the team about the decision. And Irsay convinced Saturday, who said he prayed on it and decided he was being called to Indianapolis for a reason, to take the job.
Among Saturday’s first tasks was to figure out who would call the offensive plays, since Reich had handled those duties and offensive coordinator Marcus Brady was fired on Nov. 1. Sources say quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich was offered the duties without any revision to his existing contract, and he turned it down. So, the Colts pivoted to 30-year-old pass game specialist/assistant quarterbacks coach Parks Frazier, who is regarded as an excellent young coach but has never called plays in the NFL and will make his debut Sunday under challenging circumstances.
Saturday said at his initial press conference Monday night that Sam Ehlinger will get his third NFL start on Sunday against the Raiders. But Ryan — who was dealing with a shoulder injury when he was benched — will be active for the first time since the change. If things don’t go well, another QB change isn’t out of the question, per sources.
Saturday, 47, held his first team meeting Wednesday and reiterated much of what he said in his press conference: He took the job because he loves the Colts, he’s leaning on the coaching staff to help him and he’s not scared about jumping in for the next eight games, perhaps more.
“Here’s the deal: I’m completely comfortable in who I am as a man,” Saturday told reporters Wednesday. “I know I can lead men. I know I know the game of football, and I’m passionate about it. I have no fear about are you as qualified as somebody else. Bro, I spent 14 years in a locker room. I went to the playoffs 12 times. I’ve got five dudes in the Hall of Fame that played with me. You don’t think I’ve seen greatness? You don’t think I’ve seen how people prepare? How they coach? How they GM? How they work? I’ve won (one Super Bowl), been to two.
“Here’s the deal: None of us are promised a good job. I may be terrible at this, and after eight games, I’ll say, ‘God bless you. I am no good.’ I could be really good at it. I got no idea. But I dang sure won’t back down.”