Indianapolis Colts fire coach Frank Reich

INDIANAPOLIS — The Colts have fired head coach Frank Reich, the team announced Monday, ending the 60-year-old coach’s tenure a little more than one season after extending Reich’s contract through the 2026 season.

Former Colts center Jeff Saturday has been named the interim coach.

Reich, who was the team’s second choice for the job in 2018 after Josh McDaniels backed out, initially got off to a fast start in Indianapolis, first by guiding Andrew Luck and the Colts to the playoffs after a 1-5 start in his first season, then for getting the Colts back to the playoffs in 2020, just one season after Luck’s shocking retirement.

Forced to coach each of his five seasons with a different starting quarterback -- Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz and then Matt Ryan -- and coaching seven quarterbacks overall, Reich finished 40-33-1 in his four and a half seasons, reaching the playoffs twice and earning one postseason win.

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But the Colts never won an AFC South title under Reich, and the coach’s tenure in Indianapolis began to go wrong immediately after the 2020 season ended. Philip Rivers, the veteran quarterback Reich publicly declared he wanted back in Indianapolis for a second season, retired, and Reich "stuck his neck out" for the Colts to go get Carson Wentz, believing he could rehabilitate his former protégé's career.

Wentz ended up being a disaster in Indianapolis, frustrating Colts owner Jim Irsay because of leadership and a string of injuries and controversies, ultimately costing Indianapolis a playoff berth by coming up small in back-to-back games against inferior teams when a single win would have sent the Colts into the postseason.

Under Irsay's direction, the Colts cut ties with Wentz last offseason and traded for long-time Falcons starter Matt Ryan, believing Ryan's leadership and experience would fit perfectly behind the highest-paid offensive line in football and the kind of running game he rarely had in Atlanta. With Ryan in place, the Colts were widely predicted to be the favorites to win the AFC South, a benchmark Irsay set for Reich and Ballard in the offseason at the owner's meetings.

A complete Indianapolis offensive collapse followed instead.

Under fire behind an offensive line that has been one of the NFL's worst, Ryan was plagued by turnovers, sending the offense into a tumultuous two weeks that included the Colts benching Ryan for first-time starter Sam Ehlinger, then firing offensive coordinator Marcus Brady and granting Nyheim Hines' desire to be traded out of Indianapolis.

None of the moves worked.

Indianapolis ranks dead last in points per game (14.7), last in sacks allowed (35), 27th in yards (315.1) and tied for last in turnovers (17).

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 06: Head coach Frank Reich of the Indianapolis Colts looks on during the second half of a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on November 06, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 06: Head coach Frank Reich of the Indianapolis Colts looks on during the second half of a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on November 06, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

The final death knell came in a 26-3 loss to the Patriots on Sunday in which Reich’s offense put up just 121 yards, the lowest total for the franchise since the 1997 season, the year before Peyton Manning arrived in Indianapolis.

“The offensive performance, that’s why I was brought here, that’s my responsibility,” Reich said in the aftermath of Sunday’s loss. “We’ve got players that are plenty good enough. I have to do a better job. It starts with me on offense. I’ve got to do a better job getting guys ready to play, putting guys in good position to win and having answers when we face problems.”

Irsay decided Reich did not deserve the opportunity to find any more answers, firing his head coach and handing the job over to Indianapolis legend Jeff Saturday, the former Pro Bowl center who was working as an ESPN analyst and has never coached at the NFL level.

But the disappointment of the 2022 season's failure has caused a drastic shift in the franchise's direction over the past couple of months.

For example, the Colts committed to Ryan for two seasons after the trade, both publicly and financially, and Irsay said at times in the offseason that he believed Ryan could pause the team's revolving door at the quarterback position even longer than two years.

Ryan ultimately was given just seven games, going 3-3-1 with two losses to the Titans, before the Colts pulled the plug on that plan.

The same shift has happened at the head coaching position.

For most of the offseason, general manager Chris Ballard and Irsay himself defended Reich's record, pointing to the coach's ability to keep the Colts competitive and in playoff contention despite the constant change at quarterback. Reich's offenses finished in the top ten in scoring in three of his four full seasons, and the team's DVOA -- an advanced analytic developed by Football Outsiders that takes into account a team's performance weighted against its schedule--was higher than 11th in three of his four seasons.

“I don’t think people understand that Andrew pulling away … I’d like to see how any other franchise could possibly survive a generational talent, at 29 years old, someone they’re depending on for the next 10 years, who walks away in the middle of the preseason,” Irsay said at the owner's meetings in March. “To me, (Reich and Ballard) have done an outstanding job.”

Ballard staunchly defended Reich throughout the offseason.

"I think we have a really good head coach in Frank, who’s had to navigate some pretty tough situations at the quarterback position, and he’s been tremendous,” Ballard said. “I think we’re 11th in wins since he got here, and four starting quarterbacks. That’s pretty good, man. I think he’s really special.”

A collapse of the hallmarks that had defined Reich's offense changed the Colts' minds.

For four seasons, Reich had navigated the quarterback change by protecting the passer, building a strong running game, limiting turnovers and getting off to fast starts, particularly on the team's opening drive.

"In some ways, I think we’ve exceeded expectations with all that we’ve gone through when you consider the number of quarterbacks," Reich said recently, defending his offensive record.

But after the offensive debacle in New England on Sunday, Reich was equally harsh on his own job performance this season.

“We’re nine games into it, it’s not been pretty," Reich said. "I’m the head coach. We had higher expectations than where we’re at right now.”

And ultimately, Irsay decided it was time to take the Colts in a new direction.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indianapolis Colts news: Frank Reich fired as head coach