INDIANAPOLIS – No matter how Jim Irsay views this Jeff Saturday 8-game experience, the Colts are going to have to conduct a full head-coaching search once this season ends.
Guessing on potential names is a bit far-fetched, but we will throw some names out here.
Let’s categorize head coaching candidates into three pools here: past NFL head coaching experience (5 names), current NFL assistants (10 names) and college names (5 names).
Some names might surprise you, but remember who is leading this search—Irsay—and good luck saying that any idea is too grand.
All right, not including Saturday, here are some potential candidates:
NFL Head Coaching Experience
-Jim Caldwell (Age: 67, Record: 62-50): Is this a name to watch if Jeff Saturday slides into a front office role for the Colts? Caldwell’s Detroit tenure is darn impressive. He had winning seasons in 3 of 4 seasons there, going 36-28 overall, making the playoffs twice. In Detroit. Coaching the Lions. Would Caldwell’s age hurt his candidacy in Indy? Does he have too similar of a temperament to what the Colts just had with Frank Reich?
-Brian Flores (Age: 41, Record: 24-25): It was a very unfortunate end to Flores in Miami, after he was fired following 10 and 9-win campaigns (he went 5-11 in his first seasons in Miami). Flores is currently on the defensive staff in Pittsburgh following his 3 years as the head man in Miami. This would be a young, CEO type of hire, but also a guy who had a Miami team with questions at quarterback finding consecutive winning seasons. It’s going to be very interesting to see the market for Flores after his surprising firing in Miami.
–Jim Harbaugh (Age: 58, Record 74-24): Yes, Harbaugh hasn’t been in the NFL game since 2014. It was an extremely strong 4-year run for Harbaugh as the head coach of the 49ers. Harbaugh went 44-19-1, going to the NFC Championships three times and the Super Bowl during his 4 seasons as the head man in San Francisco. Obviously, Harbaugh played for the Colts from 1994-97 and is in the team’s Ring of Honor, so Jim Irsay has that sentimental angle. Would making a commitment to Harbaugh mean he has more roster control than ‘normal’ head coaching duties? FWIW, Harbaugh publicly said last week he would be returning to Michigan in 2023.
-Bill O’Brien (Age: 53, Record: 52-48): Colts fans will probably hate this. But look at the head coaching record of O’Brien, and not his general manager track record, in Houston. O’Brien coached 7 seasons in Houston. They won 9 or more games in 5 of those 7 seasons, winning the division 4 times, advancing in the playoffs twice. That resume right there is worth a conversation. O’Brien’s name has not been mentioned much in recent openings. O’Brien is currently the offensive coordinator at Alabama.
-Sean Payton (Age: 58, Record: 152-89): Is this the ‘white whale’ of the 2022 coaching cycle? What makes the Payton name a complicated one is his retirement still has him under contract with the Saints for two more years. So any potential Payton hire will likely mean a trade to the Saints for his services. Payton is likely to have his list of suitors, as the only Super Bowl winner on this list, so it might come down to which job he finds the most attractive. Given the lack of a quarterback answer in Indy and how Jim Irsay has intervened in the past few weeks, would that lead to hesitation from Payton in wanting to be the Colts head coach?
NFL Coordinators + Position Coaches
-Eric Bieniemy (Age: 53, Chiefs offensive coordinator): It’s a bit head scratching to see a coordinator on the most consistent team/offense in the NFL over the past 5 years, and one of the best in league history, want a head coaching job and not get it. But that’s been the case with Bieniemy. A 2nd round pick in 1991, Bieniemy played in the league for nearly a decade before going into the coaching ranks. He’s been with Kansas City since 2013, which means he overlapped with Chris Ballard for four years.
-Brian Callahan (Age: 38, Bengals offensive coordinator): Part of the themes you’ll see on this list are some coaches with a offensive/quarterback background. Callahan’s work with Joe Burrow has been well documented. But Callahan’s start in the NFL is something to note, too. He began his coaching career in Denver, working with Peyton Manning and the Broncos as an offensive quality control coach, and then an offensive assistant. One would think Manning’s opinion would be a factor here, especially for Jim Irsay and, potentially, Jeff Saturday. Callahan’s father is long-time NFL coach Bill Callahan.
-Leslie Frazer (Age: 63, Buffalo defensive coordinator): This is a name to keep in mind, particularly if the current regime is maintained. Jim Irsay had Frazier on Tony Dungy’s Colts staff in the 2005 and 06 seasons. Chris Ballard interviewed Frazier in the second wave of candidates back in 2018 (along with Frank Reich and Dan Campbell). And Jeff Saturday was on the Colts roster when Frazier went from defensive assistant in 2005 to assistant head coach for Dungy in 2006. Frazier does have NFL head coaching experience, going 21-31-1 in 4 seasons with the Vikings (form 2010-13). The Vikings made the playoffs in just one of those seasons, going 10-6 in 2012.
-Jonathan Gannon (Age: 39, Eagles defensive coordinator): Two years ago, Gannon was the Colts cornerbacks coach. He was a sought after head coaching candidate last year (interviewing in Denver and Minnesota, along with making it as a finalist in Houston) and has to be viewed as a favorite of teams again this year. The Colts will obviously have some familiarity in seeing Gannon’s coaching style, with him under Frank Reich and Matt Ebrerflus from 2018-20. From a personality standpoint, Gannon is more in the Nick Sirianni camp than the Reich temperament.
-Brian Johnson (Age: 35, Eagles quarterbacks coach): If the Colts want a heavy amount of their focus to revolve around the quarterback position, Johnson probably deserves a call. Johnson’s NFL resume is only two years old, but both of those seasons were spent working with Jalen Hurts and helping with his development. If you go back to college, Johnson was Dak Prescott’s quarterbacks coach for his final two seasons at Mississippi State. Yes, this would qualify as a longshot, but Johnson is viewed as an intriguing name given the position he coaches and what he’s done with Hurts.
-Byron Leftwich (Age: 42, Tampa Bay offensive coordinator): Of all the names on this list, it’s also a bit surprising to see Leftwich still as a coordinator. He interviewed last year with the Bears and Jaguars. Leftwich has followed Bruce Arians from Arizona to Tampa Bay, where he’s been the OC since 2019. A hiring of Leftwich would be similar to a thought with Frank Reich in that you are likely maintaining the offensive system throughout that era, which is important for grooming and sustaining things with a young quarterback.
-Jerod Mayo (Age: 36, Patriots inside linebackers coach): Many think Mayo could have a Mike Vrabel coaching ascension. In the last two years, Mayo has interviewed for the HC openings for the Eagles, Broncos and Raiders. Mayo played for Bill Belichick and has been on the New England staff for the last 4 seasons. That’s his only coaching experience though and one must project Mayo into a far bigger role, given the vagueness to how much oversee he has of the New England defense.
-DeMeco Ryans (Age: 38, 49ers defensive coordinator): A 2006 second-round pick of the Texans, Ryans saw the Colts a lot as a player. After Ryans played a decade in the NFL, he’s been with the 49ers coaching staff since 2017. This is his second season as the defensive coordinator, taking over for Robert Saleh. Ryans actually took his name out of the head coach opening in Minnesota last cycle, wanting to have more time as a coordinator to grow and prepare for a future HC gig. When people chat about Ryan, they laud his ability to lead. He also leads one of the NFL’s finest defensive units.
-Shane Steichen (Age: 37, Eagles offensive coordinator): Steichen actually hails from the Frank Reich/Nick Sirianni coaching tree. Sirianni hired Steichen as his OC in 2021, and handed him play-calling duties once he realized the head-coaching responsibilities were too much throughout the week + game day. Given how Reich’s tenure ended in Indy and Sirianni’s emotional outburst, would Steichen have reservations about this opening? Does he has the clout around the league to be that picky?
-Bubba Ventrone (Age: 40, Colts special teams coordinator): When Frank Reich was fired, and assuming the Colts would hand over the interim role to someone on staff, Ventrone was the obvious choice. The couple of times Reich was away from the team (for COVID or personal reasons) it was Ventrone as the interim, running practices/overseeing the team. Hires of guys with extensive special teams background have some nice history in the NFL. Ventrone, who strikes a balance of calm behind the scenes, but fiery when needed, has a big fan in Bill Belichick. The Colts special teams units has been a pretty reliable group under Ventrone. Players love playing for Ventrone and he’s earned some respect from the Colts and Patriots to handle more responsibilities.
Current College Coaches
-Ohio State HC-Ryan Day (Age: 43, Record: 45-5): Without question, Ohio State is one of the gold standard’s in college football. Day took over for Urban Meyer in 2019 and has maintained the Buckeyes at that level. What helps Day’s candidacy with the NFL is the fact that he’s got some history in the league. He was a QB coach for the Eagles in 2015 and for the 49ers in 2016, on Chip Kelly’s staff in both place. Given the importance at finding that next QB, would Day’s experience with that position in the NFL entice the Colts?
-Wisconsin HC-Luke Fickell (Age: 49, Record: 57-18): While Fickell had a very nice run at Cincinnati, his inclusion here is because of how Chris Ballard views him. Ballard has gone out of his way to praise Fickell for the type of program he runs at Cincinnati. It was Ballard calling Fickell after the Alec Pierce workout last spring to give him that praise. Another interesting note, Fickell was roommates with Mike Vrabel during their playing days at Ohio State. The two also coached together at OSU. Is that something attractive to the Colts given they interviewed Vrabel back in 2018 and his subsequent success at Tennessee. Financials of this given a new hire makes this idea well on the back burner, but it should be noted the Colts have been a fan of what Fickell has done.
-South Florida HC-Alex Golesh (Age: 38, Record 0-0): Let’s throw one very outside of the box name on this list. Yes, Golesh left the offensive coordinator position at Tennessee to take the head job at South Florida. But people were eating up watching Golesh’s offense at UT, with their innovation and production dominating the college football world. Some interesting background notes on Golesh. He was born in Russia. And he was a student assistant at Ohio State, under Jim Tressel. Golseh has never coached in the NFL, and his coordinating experience only includes one year at Central Florida and then two years at Tennessee, both under Josh Heupel. The arrival of Golesh and Heuepl took the Vols offense from not even in the top-100 to a top-10 unit. Such a hire is beyond a longshot, but there’s no denying Golesh coordinated one of the most entertaining college offenses you’ll find.
-USC HC-Lincoln Riley (Age: 39, Record 66-11): You might actually find Colts fans willing to cut off a limb to dream about a Lincoln Riley/Caleb Williams pairing. Riley has been rumored as a college to NFL jump before, and what he’s doing in his first season at USC should only increase that belief. Riley does not have any NFL experience though, with stops at Texas Tech, East Carolina and Oklahoma before USC. Does the up and down nature to the Killf Kingsbury experiment hurt Riley’s NFL possibility?
–Alabama HC-Nick Saban (Age: 71, Record 279-69-1): Let’s get weird. You could give Nick Saban full control. He has Midwest ties. Saban went 15-17 in his two seasons as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. In college, he’s won 6 national championships. What is missing from the Nick Saban resume? A Super Bowl. If Saban gets that, is he viewed as the greatest football coach of all time? Does that matter to him? Honestly, with Jim Irsay, who the hell knows the direction the Colts will go?
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