Colts’ hiring of Saturday chided on diversity, fairness grounds

Jeff Saturday

Even Jeff Saturday was shocked when Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay called late Sunday night to offer him the head coaching position.

A former two-time All-Pro center who snapped the ball to Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning for 12 seasons, Saturday surely knows his X’s and O’s.

But the TV analyst’s only coaching experience was a three-year stint at Hebron Christian Academy in Georgia, where he led the team to a 20-16 record with three playoff appearances.

Irsay’s decision stunned people internally and around the league, though his affinity for Saturday was known throughout the organization. Saturday played 13 seasons for the Colts, made the Pro Bowl six times, helped them win a Super Bowl and is a member of the team’s Ring of Honor.

Critics immediately went after Irsay for hiring an inexperienced former player instead of elevating someone from the coaching staff, which is typical during in-season firings. Colts defensive coordinator Gus Bradley previously served as a head coach in Jacksonville from 2013-16. Senior defensive assistant John Fox spent 16 seasons as head coach in Carolina, Denver and Chicago, and led the Panthers and Broncos to Super Bowl appearances.

Former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Robert Griffin III called Irsay’s decision “a head-scratching slap in the face to every coach on that staff” in a post on Twitter.

Saturday’s hiring also didn’t sit well with the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which fights for equity and inclusion in pro football. The NFL has seven minority head coaches, including Carolina Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks.

“The Rooney Rule is the only universal hiring policy used by the NFL to promote fairness and diversity,” The Alliance said in a statement. “However, (Monday’s) news in Indianapolis illuminated a gap in the league’s stated objective. If the spirit of the rule is to expand opportunities, we believe that it must be consistently applied, even in the hiring of interim positions.”

Irsay and the Colts didn’t have to follow the Rooney Rule requirements for interviewing minority candidates because Saturday replaced Frank Reich during the season. The team will have to fulfill those requirements after the season when seeking a permanent hire.

“We’re following the Rooney Rule to a ‘T.’ I really look forward to the interview process at the end of the season,” Irsay said.

This wasn’t the first time Irsay went after Saturday, who is a paid consultant for the team and was working as an analyst at ESPN.

“Now understand, we’ve tried to hire Jeff a couple times,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard said. “We tried to hire him in 2019 as the offensive line coach and we tried to hire him again this year—just didn’t work out. The timing didn’t work out. 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. For this eight-game stretch and where we’re at, we thought he was going to be a really good fit for us.”

The Colts (3-5-1) are headed nowhere and Matt Ryan’s benching for inexperienced and overwhelmed quarterback Sam Ehlinger indicates the team has prioritized draft positioning. Reich began each of his five seasons in Indianapolis with a different quarterback, so ensuring a top draft pick to select a potential franchise QB would be a wise strategy.

That leaves Saturday in a can’t-lose position.

If he somehow finds a way to lead the Colts to a winning record or even a 4-4 mark over the last eight games, it would be quite an achievement given the state of the team.

If the Colts lose enough games to end up with one of the top QBs in the draft, Saturday would have helped set the team up for potential future success.

Irsay made a bold, outside-the-box move that opened him up for scrutiny and criticism. It’s clear he doesn’t care about public perception.

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9 thoughts on “Colts’ hiring of Saturday chided on diversity, fairness grounds

  1. Public perception? Public don’t care. Click bait (race bias). I’m guilty tor clicking.

    Hire the best candidate regardless of “identity”

    Fans JUST want competence and to win!!!

    1. Donnie, maybe your white-centric circle of friends don’t care. But there’s that pesky issue of the Rooney rule that the owners agreed to – though the rule was not explicitly violated in the hiring of an “interim” HC, it still looks bad. Especially since they dumped the logical successor in these situations, the OC, Marcus Brady, a Black coach, just a week ago. Some might also think Reggie Wayne would have been the better choice since he’s already on the staff.

  2. Rooney rule doesn’t apply to interim positions. Promoting a current coach on the staff to an interim position could create Rooney rule issues if you want to remove interim tag on that coach later. Good call to go outside the current staff but not sure Saturday is the right guy for the job.

    1. Wade – “good call” to go outside the current staff since, as you admit, it may skirt the Rooney rule? Why do you think skirting the Rooney rule is a good call?

  3. Just a rational thought…

    We have heard the thoughts and opinions of those not chosen from the present coaching staff.

    With that being said, perhaps with their inside knowledge, they didn’t want to job?

    It never fares well being a head coach with the Colts as who can make a diamond out of the turd of a team given to work with?

    They know their tenure with the team will be more valuable and longer staying where they’re at.

    1. All the current coaches have an 8 week head start on finding a new job, since a new head coach and (likely) new GM will clean house.

      I am not a fan of Jim Irsay. He has had Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell as head coaches. I’d wait until after the season to decide that Jim Irsay all the sudden is a racist. And I realize there’s only 32 head coaching jobs, but do you really want your one and possibly only shot to be with the total train wreck that is the 2022 Colts?

    2. Joe, Jim snapping up Jeff Saturday doesn’t make him racist. I don’t think he is. He’s made a very common mistake that white people make – going with what’s familiar and comfortable and, somewhat inadvertently, stepping all over the opportunities of Black coaches – after having agreed to be bound to the Rooney rule.

    3. Disagree. IMO it would have been more racist if the only time Irsay would consider a black coach is to be the interim in an impossible situation. Making (say) Reggie Wayne the interim would just be held against him the rest of his coaching career when the team goes 1-7. If you’re giving up on the season and losing benefits you, why would you want that stain on the rest of Marcus Brady’s career?

      I don’t think Irsay is acting all that different than he did when Tony Dungy became available – he sees the guy he wants and acts quickly to get him.

      Given how impetuous that Irsay is acting, kind of like his dad, I take him at his word that Reich would still be coaching if Saturday said no.

  4. Wish Coach Reich well, seems a nice fellow and sorry things went south so horribly but that’s the NFL. Saturday on an interim basis seems a stretch but wish him well, I’m sure he’ll put his heart into the effort to salvage anything he is able in the remaining games.

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