I’m trying to think of anyone who is pleased with the decision by Colts owner Jim Irsay to name Jeff Saturday as his interim head coach.
The players? Doubtful. They’re being forced to follow a new leader who is totally unfamiliar with them. Saturday did some consulting for the Colts, but he wasn’t with them on the practice fields in May, or in the meeting rooms in June, or at training camp in August, or in the locker room in the fall. He wasn’t the one who defended them in press conferences after each loss the way former coach Frank Reich did.
The assistant coaches? Definitely not. They’re also being forced to follow a new leader who has no ties to the staff and hasn’t put in any work this year. The Colts had three capable internal candidates — former head coaches John Fox and Gus Bradley, and rising star Bubba Ventrone. Irsay instead chose an ESPN talking head.
The fans? Maybe those who want to relive the team’s glory days. Saturday was Peyton Manning’s six-time Pro Bowl center, and they won a Super Bowl together. But as a fan, I wouldn’t be thrilled that the team is still charging me full price for tickets while trotting out a third-string quarterback in Sam Ehlinger and now a coach whose only coaching experience is at a Christian school in Georgia.
Saturday has been at ESPN since 2013. He was on an Indianapolis radio station at 9:30 a.m. Monday breaking down the loss to the Patriots. Three hours later, he was the Colts head coach.
“Shocked would be an understatement,” Saturday said Monday night in his press conference.
Oh wait. I found the answer.
It’s Brian Flores.
The Colts situation is yet more proof for Flores in his lawsuit against the NFL that a Good Old Boy network exists to prevent minority candidates like Flores from getting a fair shake.
The NFL says that because Saturday is an interim coach, the Colts did not violate the Rooney Rule, which requires that minority candidates be interviewed for leadership positions. After the season, the Colts will have to comply with it even if they want to hire Saturday full-time.
But this whole thing stinks.
A league infamous for having poor minority representation at head coach, general manager, offensive coordinator, and executive levels now has Irsay and the Colts exposing a giant loophole in the Rooney Rule.
What’s more, the Colts fired/scapegoated offensive coordinator Marcus Brady, who is Black, just a week ago. Whether intentional or not, it gives the appearance of Irsay clearing out the minority coach to make way for his hand-picked white coach.
Irsay made clear this isn’t just an interim stint for Saturday. It’s an audition.
“This is for eight games, and hopefully more,” Irsay said Monday night. “Obviously, we think he is one of those candidates that should be a very promising candidate to be the long-term head coach, but we have to go through that process.”
This is exactly what Flores is suing the NFL for — the sham interviews, the lack of patience, and lack of opportunities afforded to minority coaches.
Saturday isn’t exactly set up for success; the Colts are 3-5-1 and look like they’re tanking (another issue the NFL should look into). After sacking Reich and Brady, the Colts don’t have anyone on staff who has called an offensive play in the NFL.
But Saturday is obviously a favorite of ownership, and he now has the inside track on the job. What minority candidates will want to interview when it appears that Saturday has it in the bag?
Even if the Colts aren’t good, being an interim head coach is great publicity for any coach; you speak in front of the media five days per week and get to learn the intricacies of the job. It can lead to other head coaching opportunities, even if not in Indianapolis.
No offense to Saturday, who surely is a smart football mind and is beloved in Indy. But what on Earth has he done to deserve this platform? He was a great player for 15 years but coaching is completely different — the hours, the demands, the use of your brain instead of your brawn.
Saturday has never coached at a competitive level. Four years coaching at Hebron Christian Academy does not count.
“Yes, he is fully experienced enough. Yes, he is fully capable,” Irsay said. The fact that it needed to be said at all is damning in and of itself.
Irsay’s justification for hiring Saturday also lacked specifics and reeked of hubris.
“It’s something for being in the league 52 years, it’s intuitive,” he said. “I’ve been thankful. I’ve never hired a losing head coach in my life. The last interim head coach I hired became a Super Bowl-winning head coach — Bruce Arians.
“Certain people just have it. They have it. You see it when you know it.
“We don’t build rockets to go to Mars. We’re not nuclear scientists. That is none of our jobs here. It’s very simple jobs that we do here. We cultivate winning cultures. We cultivate toughness.
“I am glad he doesn’t have any NFL experience. I’m glad he hasn’t learned the fear that’s in this league, because it’s tough for all of our coaches. They’re afraid. They go to analytics and it gets difficult. I mean, he doesn’t have all that. He doesn’t have that fear, and there was no other candidate.”
The Fritz Pollard Alliance, which helped craft the Rooney Rule and advocates on behalf of minority coaches, said in a statement that the Colts highlighted a “gap” in the Rooney Rule:
“If the spirit of the rule is to expand opportunities, we believe that it must be consistently applied, even in the hiring of interim positions.”
Everyone — from the Alliance to Roger Goodell to coaches, players, and fans — should be irate over the way Saturday is getting groomed for the job.
Owners should be free to hire whomever they want, but the whole point of the Rooney Rule is to give owners exposure to a broader range of candidates. Seventy percent of NFL players are Black, but only five of 32 head coaches (including Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks) and seven of 32 general managers, a number that has improved significantly only in the last two years. Offensive coordinator, the position that overwhelmingly feeds into head coaching positions, has just three Black coaches out of 32.
Irsay, 62, scoffed at the notion that he’s doing an end-around on the Rooney Rule or that the NFL has a problem with minority representation.
“There is no problem or perception, except some of you guys make a problem or perception [laughing],” he said. “But you need hits, so you’ve got to do it.
“I don’t know, are you guys ever held accountable? Does your editor bring you in and say, ‘Well, you wrote that stuff. It was all wrong. You’re fired.’
“We get held accountable, that’s for sure. It’s something that we’re following the Rooney Rule to a T. I really look forward to the interview process at the end of the season.”
Goodell and the NFL have a problem. Its owners still don’t take the Rooney Rule seriously.
Flores, surely, can’t wait to see them in the courtroom.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.