The Indianapolis Colts shocked the NFL world last week when it fired head coach Frank Reich and hired Jeff Saturday on an interim basis to finish out the year.
Colts owner Jim Irsay made the controversial move to hire the former Indy center after a phone call where the owner reportedly asked for advice on what could be done to improve his team’s offense.
Fast forward a few hours and Saturday, who first had to take leave from his ESPN analyst, had himself a new job. Shockwaves erupted from the NFL establishment. Irsay took a public relations beating for hiring someone who had never coached above the high school level.
The criticism has not let up this week despite Saturday winning his debut last week as his Colts rallied past the Las Vegas Raiders by a 25-20 count.
Two of Saturday’s first moves paid dividends. He reinserting Matt Ryan as the Colts’ starting quarterback and elevated assistant QBs coach Parks Frazier to offensive play-caller.
The early success has not stopped the criticism and dismay across the league. Critics like Hall of Fame coach Bill Cowher called the hiring a disgrace to the league and to the hundreds and hundreds of coaches out there who truly are qualified.
Future Hall of Famer, Joe Thomas, called it one of most disrespectful things he has ever seen while chastising Saturday for accepting the job ‘from his drinking buddy’.
Thomas said being an NFL head coach isn’t “just something you can show up for.” Cowher, now an analyst for CBS, stated that the move was a ‘disgrace to the coaching profession.’ Cowher complained that Irsay bypassed members of Reich’s staff who had been there all season, some of whom even have head NFL coaching experience, and deserved the opportunity over Saturday.
Saturday responded by adding a shocker to the shocker – he won his debut. Irsay presented him with a game ball afterward, Saturday turned it into a bonding moment with his players. He told his team that everyone was getting a game ball and giving his players an extra day off for the victory.
Saturday spoke of not having time to worry over his critics.
What I noticed after the victory is that the fickle world of sports media is starting to turn. I heard time and time again this week that maybe a NFL head coach just needs to be a leader of men while letting his assistants do the X’s and O’s. Did not hear that last week after Irsay’s announcement.
I watched the Colts’ game. Indy’s players played hard for Saturday while on the road in Vegas. Their coach did not look overwhelmed or confused on the sideline.
Ironically, Saturday beat an “established” coach in Josh McDaniel. The former New England assistant is in his first year with the Raiders and has a 3-6 record in his debut season. Things are not working out well for McDaniel who inherited a team that made the playoffs last year without him.
Those who root against the establishment have to love this story.