Jim Irsay hired former Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday as the team’s interim head coach despite the advice of his top executives, who tried to convince Irsay otherwise.
It was the latest power move by Irsay, who also benched veteran quarterback Matt Ryan two weeks before he fired head coach Frank Reich on Nov. 7.
Saturday was a member of the Colts‘ ring of honor and Super Bowl XLI-winning team, but he had never coached above the high school level and most recently worked as an ESPN TV analyst. In preparing for today’s game against the Raiders, Saturday navigated an unprecedented situation with coaches and players, which sources say has already shown his natural leadership skills.
Outside and inside the building, the unorthodox hire attracted intense scrutiny.
Colts president Pete Ward and general manager Chris Ballard, among others, spoke with Irsay and expressed their reservations, sources said. A rising star in special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone, along with former head coaches John Fox and Gus Bradley, is on the Colts’ staff. Irsay, according to sources, was hellbent on hiring him Saturday. He revealed that Irsay called him after last Sunday’s loss to the Patriots inquiring about the offensive line’s problems.
As soon as Irsay called Reich — the owner remained in the Boston area after the game — he informed him he would be terminated. Irsay informed the team and Saturday, who said he prayed about it and decided he was being called to Indianapolis for a reason, agreed to accept the job.
Saturday’s first task was to determine who would call the offensive plays, since Reich had handled those duties and offensive coordinator Marcus Brady was fired on Nov. 1. It is reported that quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich turned down the offer without any revisions to his existing contract. As a result, the Colts turned to 30-year-old pass game specialist/assistant quarterbacks coach Parks Frazier, who has never coached in the NFL but will make his debut Sunday.
Saturday said at his initial press conference Monday night that Sam Ehlinger would start for the Raiders on Sunday. But Ryan — who was dealing with a shoulder injury when he was benched — will be active for the first time since the change. If things don’t work out, another QB change is not out of the question.
Saturday, 47, held his first team meeting Wednesday and reiterated what he said in his press conference: He took the job because he loves the Colts, he can count on the coaching staff to help him and he’s not afraid to jump in for the next eight games, perhaps more.
“Here’s the deal: I’m completely comfortable with who I am as a man,” Saturday told reporters. As a leader, I know I am passionate about football and I know I am capable of leading men. I have no fear of being as qualified as anybody else. I spent 14 years in the locker room. I went to the playoffs 12 times. I played with five guys in the Hall of Fame. You don’t think I’ve seen greatness? You don’t think I’ve seen how people prepare? How do they become general managers? I’ve won one Super Bowl and played in two.
I may be terrible at this, and after eight games, I’ll say, ‘God bless you. I’m no good.’ I could be really good at it. I have no idea. But I won’t back down.”