INDIANAPOLIS – Did that really happen?
Yes, the Colts have hired Jeff Saturday as their interim head coach. Jim Irsay is as defiant as ever in defending his resume. And Chris Ballard is safe (for now) despite the awkwardness surrounding such an unprecedented move.
Here are 10 thoughts on the Irsay, Saturday, Ballard press conference from Monday night:
1. State Of The Franchise Now
If you want to know why the Colts are currently in shambles, and in a position they haven’t sniffed in decades, just watch Monday’s presser.
Jim Irsay was defiant in defending his resume, relishing in the winningest era in NFL history (2000-09), and not seemingly wanting to live in the present of where his franchise has been in the last decade.
Irsay pointed to the Colts having the 4th most wins in the NFL since 2000, and his history of never hiring a losing head coach.
What he failed to mention is the Colts are now 12 years removed from that era.
And the Colts have done this since their last division title eight years ago: Have won 1 playoff game, finished in the top half of the AFC just twice in eight years and seen the other 3 teams in the lowly AFC South all win a division/win more playoff games than the Colts.
2. Jeff Saturday Said ‘Yes’
Jeff Saturday’s ‘yes or no’ answer ultimately decided this in-season fate of Frank Reich.
Had Saturday said ‘no’ to Jim Irsay’s extraordinary offer, Reich would still be the Colts head coach.
This decision had less to do with filling the need to can Reich mid-season, and more to do with wanting Saturday to get this opportunity.
“If (Saturday) turns us down,” Irsay said on Monday, “we’re not here today.”
3. Chris Ballard Safe?
According to Jim Irsay’s words, yes.
But Irsay also said Frank Reich was ‘safe’ just a few weeks ago.
With Ballard sitting next to Irsay on Monday night, the Owner was adamant in his defense of a guy he previously called the ‘greatest GM hire of the 21st century.’
“There’s no question about that,” Irsay said of Ballard staying here past this season. “Honestly, it’s not really even in the consciousness of my mind about that sort of thing. 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.”
Ballard—like Reich was—is under contract through 2026.
Of course, if this Saturday hire is viewed as a guy now above Ballard in the organization, would that lead to the current GM questioning his own future in the franchise?
Would Ballard entertain the idea of resigning if he feels he has lost his voice in the organization, and still has a strong enough resume to get another GM job?
4. Sam Ehlinger Still Starting, But Who Calls Plays?
While Jeff Saturday committed to some personnel for Sunday (Sam Ehlinger at QB and Bernhard Raimann at LT), a decision on play caller remains.
On staff, quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich did call plays on an interim basis for the Jaguars in 2018. The Jags averaged 9 points per game in 5 games as the play caller for Jacksonville.
Running backs coach Scottie Montgomery has play calling history at the collegiate level and has a bigger offensive role in Indy.
No matter this decision, what a whirlwind this is for Ehlinger as he embarks on his third career NFL start.
5. Jeff Saturday’s Future
When you listen to Jeff Saturday on Monday night, he didn’t sound like a guy simply coming here for a 2-month interim role.
He has real interest in doing this for the long-term.
“I feel fully capable,” Saturday said. “I’m excited about the opportunity – eight games. Here’s the great part about my career, I came in and nobody expected anything. I’m here and no one expects anything. If it goes well, hopefully it will go extremely well. But I have no preconceived notion that I’m going to be some spectacular anything. I know I’ve got to work hard. I’m auditioning not only for this one, but for 31 others just like everybody else in this game. Make no mistake, the job is win and I know that’s what I’m here to do. How can I arm the guys in that locker room and how can I arm those coaches to be the best they can be? Again, I believe in them. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t, and that was made clear to both Jim and Chris. If I didn’t believe in the guys in the room, if I didn’t believe in the guys in that locker room, I wouldn’t show.”
The Colts have actually tried to hire Saturday a few times prior, even most recently in this current Ballard era. Ballard said the Colts wanted Saturday as their offensive line coach in 2019, and again this past year.
6. Holding Onto Previous Era
Ironically, Jim Irsay made a decision on Monday to fire a guy who had the strong public backing of an era the Owner is now dipping back into for his interim head coach.
The likes of Bill Polian, Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning all vouched for Reich’s hire in 2018.
Well, that era is back again, with Saturday now as the interim coach.
At some point, does Irsay need to remove that era, which ended its rare run of excellence a dozen years ago, form having such major impact on these sorts of decisions?
7. Leadership Of Jeff Saturday
Easily, the most attractive quality of Jeff Saturday, especially for this role, is his leadership.
That’s been on display on and off the field throughout Saturday’s time in professional football.
And it’s something Chris Ballard holds in high regard when evaluating head coaching candidates.
“I spent a lot of time with Jeff, like I have with a few of the ex-players here, and it doesn’t take long to figure out that he’s got real leadership in him, real special in that regard,” Ballard said. “For this eight-game stretch and where we’re at, we thought he was going to be a really good fit for us.”
“First of all, he’s extremely tough and he’s a leader,” Irsay said of Saturday. “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
8. Full Interview Process Coming
The Colts will carry out a full interview process for their permanent head coach following the end to the 2022 season.
That is when the Colts must fulfil the Rooney Rule obligations before naming a full-time head coach.
“Yes, it’s an interim head coaching job,” Irsay said on Monday. “It lines up with the Rooney Rule. At the end of the season, there will be a full process of reviewing permanent head coach, which we will have an interview process for and go from there. This is for eight games and hopefully more.”
And Irsay said on Monday that Chris Ballard will be part of that process.
Does that mean Ballard’s list of candidates will get serious play, or is Irsay going to carry the heavy lifting in this decision?
9. Hopeless Romantic
What a month it’s been for Jim Irsay.
The NFL world gave him a resounding standing ovation after his Daniel Snyder comments at last month’s Owners Meetings.
Amidst all of that, Irsay demanded Sam Ehlinger start over Matt Ryan, and then fired Frank Reich at the mid-way point of the season.
Is this a power trip hungry run for the Colts Owner?
If not, the wild move to Saturday has Irsay wanting desperately to resurrect things with the era he longs for. As Irsay said on Monday, there was no other candidate for him.
This is an emotional decision from Irsay, wanting to cling to that decade-long run, and believing one of the key figures in that is needed for his franchise.
10. Shots At Frank Reich, Andrew Luck?
Shots at the media were aplenty from Jim Irsay, and even Chris Ballard, on Monday night.
And that’s a bit rare for Irsay to be so routinely defiant.
But how about this comment about analytics?
“I am glad he doesn’t have any NFL experience,” Irsay said when asked about Saturday’s inexperience. “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.”
Is that an indirect shot at Reich, who relied heavily on the Colts analytics department?
Or this about Luck?
“I never had a quarterback retire on me at age 29 in his prime,” Irsay later said.
This was rare form even for Irsay.
Overall, the Irsay seen on Monday was one staunchly defending a resume that has not recently sniffed an ‘upper quartile’ level in the NFL.