Right next to the day quarterback Andrew Luck retired, November 7, 2022 will live in history as one of the craziest days in Indianapolis Colts history. Not only did the Colts fire Frank Reich, they chose a TV analyst, Jeff Saturday, with no previous NFL coaching experience to replace him.
Such a decision needed explanation for obvious reasons. Colts owner Jim Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard tried to provide that during a press conference on November 7.
During the presser, Irsay and Ballard opened the curtain behind the hiring process a bit and revealed their logic behind choosing Saturday as interim head coach. Some of the details uncovered were standard cliches but others were somewhat shocking revelations.
Arguably the most surprising was Irsay, Ballard and Saturday all admitting that the conversations about Saturday becoming interim head coach started late Sunday night on November 6 — when Frank Reich was still in place as Colts head coach.
But not only did Irsay reveal that detail, he also implied that if Saturday had declined his offer, no coaching change would have been made.
“If he (Saturday) turns us down, we’re not here today,” said Irsay.
No Backup Plan Besides Saturday?
Discussing other candidates in front of the coach who was ultimately chosen for the opening is not typical. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that Irsay said during the press conference that Saturday was the only one offered the interim head coaching position.
But based on Saturday’s lack of experience, it’s noteworthy that he was the only man offered the position. Not only was he Indianapolis’ first option, though, Irsay made it sound like he was the only option he would accept.
“I understand that he’s fully capable of doing this and more than capable,” Irsay said when describing Saturday. “No, [the job] wasn’t offered to anyone else, and I don’t know, Chris and I, what we would have done, if anything, if he wasn’t available and willing. That’s kind of how it came together.”
Irsay referenced Saturday’s leadership and “it” factor when explaining why the former Colts offensive lineman was the best choice for the interim head coaching position despite Indianapolis having two former head coaches already on the coaching staff.
The Colts owner also repeatedly fell back on the franchise’s previous record under his ownership as a reference for why he’s now making the right decision.
“He’s the best man for the job. There’s no question about it in my mind, and I’ve been around it a long time,” Irsay said. “The last coach I hired as an interim head coach was Bruce Arians, and it was the right coach. He was the best guy, that’s why. There is no other mystery behind it.”
Irsay added that no coach under his ownership since 1998 has posted a record below .500.
Interim Coaching Hire Came Together Before Firing Reich?
Not having a backup plan for if Saturday declined the job seemed to be the best of what Irsay admitted to. But it also sounded like the Colts organization zeroed in on Saturday before officially firing Reich.
“After the game yesterday, Mr. Irsay and I visited, and it was spirited like they can be because we are both passionate about what we do,” Ballard said. “Then last night when I arrived back in Indy, we talked about Jeff [Saturday].
“Now understand, we’ve tried to hire Jeff a couple times. We tried to hire him in 2019 as the offensive line coach. And we tried to hire him again this year. It just didn’t work out. The timing didn’t work out.”
With that response, the Colts general manager tried to make his answer about how the organization finally landed a man they believe will be a great coach after years of coveting him.
But what his answer revealed was that Irsay and Ballard were already talking about coaching candidates before firing Reich. And again, based on Irsay’s other responses, that could have been because the team wanted Reich to remain head coach if Saturday said no.
Saturday didn’t disclose as many details in the hiring process as Irsay and Ballard did during the press conference, but the new Colts head coach did unveil one interesting detail — hiring Saturday appeared to be Irsay’s preference.
“We had the conversation, and it escalate quickly,” Saturday said referring to his conversation with Irsay about becoming interim head coach. “And then he (Irsay) told me he was going to meet with Chris about it.”
Based on Ballard describing his conversations after the game with Irsay as “spirited,” it’s worth wondering whether the two disagreed over whether to fire Reich and hire Saturday.
Saturday also said his conversation over the phone with Irsay occurred Sunday night on November 6.
Irsay confirmed that when asked specifically about when he first thought of Saturday as a candidate for interim head coach. He paused after the question to choose his words very carefully and said:
“Really last night of really picking up the phone and calling him in terms of talking to him and Chris and I talking and saying ‘Hey, I think it’s time and Jeff is the man. Let’s talk this thing through,'” said Irsay.
The fact Irsay had Reich’s replacement lined up before firing him probably seems like little consequence to Colts fans, but it may not reflect well on the organization when Indianapolis enters the head coach hiring process fully after the season.
That will be required because of the Rooney Rule regardless of how well Saturday does in the final eight games.