On Monday evening, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, general manager Chris Ballard, and interim head coach Jeff Saturday held a press conference announcing the hire of Saturday — the former Colts center and ESPN analyst — who had never coached at any level of college or professional football before. Irsay had fired head coach Frank Reich on Monday morning, and the Saturday hire shocked just about everybody throughout the league.
As did the press conference, in which Irsay was at his Irsayest, Ballard was prickly as hell, and Saturday looked like he didn’t know what the light in the tunnel meant. Which would be an understandable reaction. It’s how a lot of us felt watching it.
Colts owner Jim Irsay had one of the greatest press conferences of all-time 🤣 pic.twitter.com/9x02NBTKOk
— Tim and Friends (@timandfriends) November 8, 2022
Yeah, it was something else. Here are some of the most “remarkable” snippets from the event.
Irsay sees Saturday's lack of experience as a plus.
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
When pressed about the unprecedented nature of this hire, Irsay sounded as if he’d thought it out… at least in his own head.
When I hired Tony Dungy, it was done very methodical. You operate like the CIA, it’s very analytical, it’s very unemotional (and) it’s very methodical with in-depth experience and knowledge and trying to get the feeling for what’s right. Then I wanted a winning coach, a winning playoff coach, a winning coach that was proven to come in with our franchise. Now, 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.
Irsay hired Dungy in 2002. Dungy had already helped to build the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into the Super Bowl-winning team right after his departure, and he’d been a coach in the NFL since 1984. Relating the use of analytics to fear shows you just how backward this entire situation is. With all due respect to Saturday, “there was no other candidate” might be the only honest thing said in that paragraph.
Irsay defended hiring a white coach without interviewing a Black candidate.
(Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Irsay brought Dungy up again when asked why he didn’t hire a Black head coach with any kind of experience before hiring a white head coach on the spot. The Colts didn’t violate the Rooney Rule because it doesn’t apply to interim head coaches, but it’s not a great look. Irsay bristled when asked if it was a problem.
No, it’s not. Again, Tony Dungy, being in the Hall of Fame as the first African-American coach and being followed by Jim Caldwell. When Tony took a leave of absence for a very unfortunate family situation, Jim Caldwell was our interim head coach. It was interim, just like this is. There is no problem or perception, except some of you guys make a problem or perception (laughing), but you need hits so you’ve got to do it. I understand. I’d do the same thing, I was a broadcast journalism major too. There’s always going to be a lot creative and a lot of words said. I don’t know, are you guys ever held accountable? Does your editors 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.
The Colts, per the Rooney Rule, would have to interview at least two minority candidates and have at least one in-person interview with a minority coaching candidate even if they decide to stick with Saturday in 2023. This is more a problem with the Rule than how the Colts are subverting it, but this is how “token” interviews happen. It’s been a problem for a long time.
The Colts don't have an offensive play-caller.
(Syndication: The Indianapolis Star)
It’s also not a good look that, a week before firing Reich, Irsay fired offensive coordinator Marcus Brady, who is Black. Not that Irsay doesn’t have the right to move on, but at this moment, and just five days before they take on the Las Vegas Raiders in Las Vegas, they have no offensive play-caller. Saturday is going to interview and hire a new coach to do that, and get everyone on the same page with a travel day and a green quarterback in Sam Ehlinger, and expect that to work?
I haven’t made a decision yet, but I’ve interviewed guys. I’m going to continue to interview guys on the staff, going through that. I’ll decide something this evening. I’m drinking from a fire hydrant a little bit. We’re trying to meet with everybody, get this done. I’ll continue that part. We’ll have a decision. I’ve met with the offensive staff. I haven’t had the chance to meet with the defensive staff. But I met with the entire staff – then already a few guys and I’ll continue that through the night, come to a conclusion and we’ll roll from there.
Listen, the great part about this and I’ll just say this, there are fantastic coaches on this staff and men who have done this a long time. There’s former head coaches, but there are guys in that offensive room who have called a lot of games and a lot of plays. There’s a lot of men who have put a lot of time into this. I have no fear I will pick the right guy and we will ride with it. I’m excited about the opportunity. I’m just trying to get a grasp of what their needs would be for them and how I can support them in doing that and we’ll make a move.
Ballard got the dreaded vote of confidence.
(Syndication: The Indianapolis Star)
Given all the head-chopping that’s gone on in the Colts’ facility of late, Ballard might want to keep his head on a swivel — especially since he’s the architect of the team that put everybody in this particular scenario. For now, Irsay remains confident. Of course, Irsay was confident in Reich and now-benched quarterback Matt Ryan… so, there you go. When asked if Ballard will be back next year, Irsay seemed pretty sure.
Of course, yes I do. There’s no question about that. Honestly, it’s not really even in the consciousness of my mind about that sort of thing. Look it, Chris was highly sought after when he came here. It was a great indication this organization – that he wanted to come here. He could’ve gone anywhere he wanted. He’s been Executive of the Year before. You guys can try to diminish him all you want, but that’s just your words. They have no substance to it because there is no truth in it. I mean, the guy is a winner and he’s been immensely successful. No one is perfect in this game. We all lose a lot in this league. You know how many shots Michael Jordan has missed? You know how many games Michael Jordan has lost? I mean, in this league it’s tough and sometimes you don’t understand how fortunate you are when you’re around success because you think that’s the norm. But it’s not. And he fits right into that culture.
Michael Jordan made the shots he needed to make, and we’ll just leave it at that.
Comparing Saturday to Bruce Arians was... a bit of a stretch.
(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Bruce Arians became the Colts’ interim head coach on October 1, 2012, after head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia. Arians led the Colts, and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, to an 11-5 record and a playoff spot. Nobody expected that, and it set Arians up to be a head coach for the Arizona Cardinals and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Arians had also been an offensive coordinator in the league for over 10 years.
Irsay saw no issue with comparing Saturday to Arians, though.
He’s the best man for the job. There’s no question about it in my mind. I’ve been around it a long time. The last coach I hired as an interim head coach was Bruce Arians. It was the right coach. He was the best guy. That’s why. There’s no other mystery behind that. I can talk about him. First of all, he’s extremely tough and he’s a leader. When you’re looking for head coaches, leadership’s the No. 1 thing. That’s the No. 1 thing. That also has a toughness level there. Highly intelligent. That’s very important. You have to be a great thinker, you have to be able to work with people, you have to be open-minded, you have to create a culture where people trust you. You have to know the game, you have to have experience, you have to be able to draw upon experience in your life to come forward and do what a head coach does in this league.
It’s very difficult. There are lots of coordinators that aren’t good head coaches. Certain people just have it. They have it. You see it when you know it. It’s brought with a lot of things that bring that to the table but let’s be very clear, this thing was driven by what Chris and I see in his excellence and his readiness and who he is. If he turns us down, we’re not here today.
So… insert interim head coach, no matter who it is, and succeed. It’s as simple as that!
Saturday is excited about the opportunity. Should he be?
(Syndication: The Indianapolis Star)
Look. Maybe this all works out somehow. But Saturday is heading into a situation with a capricious owner, a general manager who’s on the defensive, and a team that just isn’t good enough to compete at the highest level at this point. Saturday is a good guy and a fine analyst, and I hope he’s got a bridge back to analysis if this blows up in everybody’s faces.
What did Saturday want to say to the fans?
I’m excited about the opportunity. I hope they are. I hope they know how much I care about this organization, about this community as a whole. My adult life was built here. I don’t diminish this opportunity, even the slightest. Even if it is for eight games and everybody wants to run me out of town. I believe that I’m called for a reason and I would not have accepted it without that. I’m excited about the opportunity, I’m excited about working with those men in the locker room, the coaches here and building something special. It’s hard work. There’s nothing easy about it. It’s hard to win a game in this league.
I don’t come in with these preconceived ideas of who I’m going to be. I’m going to be who I’ve always been. I’m going to hold people accountable, I’m not going to demean people. You all know me, been around me for 20 years. I am who I am. I don’t change. I’m probably more spirited than most, my voice, you’ll definitely be able to hear me, but I’ll hold people accountable. When I was a player, I held people accountable and I’m going to be your toughest critic, but I’m going to be your biggest cheerleader. I’ve always done that, I’ve always believed in that and that’s the way I wanted to be coached and that’s how I’ll continue to coach.