The hiring of Jeff Saturday in Indianapolis earlier this season came as a surprise to just about everyone in the NFL world.
As it turns out, that includes Colts players and assistant coaches.
General manager Chris Ballard told the team that coach Frank Reich had been fired in early November, but he didn’t reveal who was taking over, according to The Athletic’s Zak Keefer. Many expected either special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone or defensive coordinator Gus Bradley would step in.
Instead, Colts owner Jim Irsay opted to hire the ESPN analyst as his interim coach instead — something that Colts players and assistants learned from Twitter and other alerts on their phones. They were both “in shock” and “frustrated.”
“Took a minute to register,” an unnamed player told The Athletic. “Then it clicked: He was always great on ‘First Take.’”
The Colts enter Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Houston Texans with a 4-11-1 record. Saturday, who had no coaching experience above the high school level before landing in Indianapolis, has gone just 1-6.
He did win his first game with the team against the Las Vegas Raiders, which came on the heels of a brutal blowout loss to the New England Patriots under Reich the week before, but they haven’t won since.
“You go s**t the bed in Foxboro and the head coach you love gets fired, replaced by a guy who wasn’t in the building,” center Ryan Kelly told The Athletic. “It’s been a whirlwind.”
Irsay had been trying to hire Saturday for some time, too. He tried, and failed, twice to get him on board as an offensive line coach, something many expected would be a pit stop before eventually promoting him to take over from Reich, per The Athletic.
But Saturday, who played for the Colts for 13 seasons, never took him up on it.
After how the team has played under Saturday, it’s hard to see Irsay bringing him back — even though it’d be unfair to blame the Colts’ struggles entirely on Saturday. He was thrust into an impossible position, has had to bounce between several starting quarterbacks and lost star running back Jonathan Taylor to an ankle injury, among other things.
Who knows what direction Irsay will take after the Colts wrap up their season on Sunday afternoon. That’s up to Irsay, who clearly isn’t afraid to make an unusual choice — even if it upsets a big chunk of the organization.