On Sunday we find out the answer to an absurd question: Can you drag a guy off the street (or out of a television studio), make him an NFL head coach and six days later … win?
It’s worth noting that Jeff Saturday, the man tabbed here in the middle of the season to become the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, isn’t exactly some dude calling into talk radio declaring he could do a better job with his favorite team.
The 47-year-old is a two-time All-Pro and Super Bowl champion center, known for his on-field brains as much as his brawn. This isn’t quite Ted Lasso.
Still, the man has never worked a single day as even a lowly assistant coach at the pro or college level (he did lead a small high school team in Georgia). He hasn’t even been in the NFL since 2012, which in football terms represents about three generations in schematic innovation. Does he know the playbook? Does he know the players?
It’s not like this is Tom Brady trying it, going from being enveloped in cutting edge meetings and strategy sessions as a player to the head coach role. Even that would be wild.
Whatever, this is happening and that means anything could happen when Saturday coaches Indy against Las Vegas. It has to be the most fascinating game between a 3-5-1 team (Colts) and a 2-6 team (Raiders) in NFL history.
Is this genius? Is this a farce? Is this a work in progress? Saturday has the interim job after the firing of Frank Reich and could win the job full-time.
Could the Colts, 5-point underdogs, actually start winning and reverse the fortunes of their season?
Maybe. Who the heck knows, which is the best part of this. You don’t often get to see something completely new.
Even Saturday, rightfully, says he isn’t sure.
“I may be terrible at this,” he said this week. “And after eight games, I’ll say, ‘God bless you. I am no good.’ I may be really good. I got no idea, but I dang sure ain’t going to back down. I can tell you that.
“... I’m completely comfortable in who I am as a man,” he continued. “I know I can lead men. I know I know the game of football and I’m passionate about it. I have no fear about ‘are you as qualified as somebody else?’”
If he’s successful, it could upend conventional football wisdom. Maybe experience doesn’t matter?
“I’m glad he doesn’t have any NFL experience,” said Colts team owner Jim Irsay, who thinks too many modern coaches are paralyzed by group think and analytics.
Irsay has always been a misfit among the misfits that make up NFL team ownership; an unpolished trust fund kid with a fancy guitar collection and a history of substance abuse challenges. He certainly doesn’t care about anyone or perhaps anything. So he gave us this experiment.
And it’s not like there is much to lose.
Indy is one of the NFL’s most disappointing teams. Despite trading for another quarterback savior — former MVP Matt Ryan — the offense is anemic. Its 14.7 points per game is the worst in the league. It’s 315.1 yards per game and 4.8 yards per play rank 27th and 30th, respectively. It gained just 121 last week in a 26-3 loss to New England.
So what exactly is the risk here?
Irsay is adamant that the Colts aren’t tanking and still sees this as a salvageable season. “We don’t tank in Indianapolis,” he said. “We’re in this thing; 9-7-1 gets us in … We’re going to do what it takes to win.”
Is this ridiculous? Perhaps, but who ever knows with these coaches? The Colts will play the Raiders and first-year man Josh McDaniels. He arrived in Vegas with plenty of experience (two years as a head coach in Denver sandwiched by two long stints under the wing of Bill Belichick). Yet the Raiders are horrible.
Saturday is a smart guy and knows he doesn’t know it all. He will likely cede all, or most, control over the defense to Gus Bradley. Reich mostly did the same and the Colts' defense isn’t really the problem here; it ranks 13th in points allowed (20.3).
On offense, Saturday has tabbed 30-year-old assistant Parks Frazier as the play-caller. Frazier has never called plays before in an NFL game, but he fits the theme here. If nothing else, it’s just a change in attitude.
“He came in with energy,” defensive tackle DeForest Buckner told the Indianapolis Star after Saturday’s first practice. “That’s something we need right now.”
Can that help fix the offensive line, fire up the offense and win games? Can Saturday make split-second decisions as a clock is running? Can it last even if there is initial success?
Is this real or the movies?
The whole league is going to find out soon enough — likely boom or bust. What can't be debated is that the sputtering Colts are suddenly fascinating.