The Indianapolis Colts dropped their third straight game Sunday, a dismal 26–3 stinker against the ho-hum New England Patriots, to fall to 3–5–1 on the season. The offense, which was rotten crap for six weeks in the hands of washed-up veteran quarterback Matt Ryan, has produced one touchdown and just five third-down conversions in two games with second-year signal-caller Sam Ehlinger under center. Monday the team’s braintrust decided they’d seen enough, and fired head coach and offensive play-caller Frank Reich. For what is shaping up to be a super-serious second-half push and not at all a humiliating self-directed free fall for draft positioning, the Colts moved quickly to fill their head coach position by hiring Jeff Saturday.
Saturday played center for the Colts for 13 years, and thus satisfies the “beloved former player” criteria that bad teams often prioritize when making such a hiring decision. His most recent job before today was as a TV analyst for ESPN.
Instability at quarterback plagued the team during Reich’s tenure. In five seasons as Indianapolis’s head coach, Reich had five different opening-day starters at the game’s most important position. The Colts have been reasonably competitive over that time, and compiled a decent if underwhelming 40–33–1 regular season record, with a lonely playoff win in the wild card round in 2019. This run of respectability was going to end this season, but at no point prior to this season has Reich’s quarterback situation been anywhere near as dire. Ehlinger is a former sixth-round pick who took his first snaps in a pro game this season, and Ryan is a mummy. Unfortunately the NFL is not the sort of environment where a coach is allowed to gesture at the deficits of the roster and throw up his hands, and indeed Reich was still pulling levers ahead of Sunday’s game, firing offensive coordinator Marcus Brady following the team’s dispiriting loss to the Commanders in Week 8.
That turns out to have been a move of some significance, now that Reich is out of the picture: According to Adam Schefter, there are now no coaches left on the Colts staff with any experience calling plays. This would seem to be a very serious deficit for a team that has already had enough trouble fielding a functional offense, although perhaps not beyond the managerial abilities of a veteran head coach, even in an interim capacity. Luckily, Saturday has important on-the-job experience to lean on, from his time as head coach of the Lions, who he led to three playoff victories and an overall winning record from 2017 to 2020. Unfortunately, these are not the Detroit Lions of the NFL, nor are they the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League. Nor even are they the Columbia Lions of the Ivy League. These are the Hebron Christian Academy Lions, of the Georgia High School Association, and Saturday’s brief stint in charge constitutes the entirety of his coaching résumé. According to Mike Florio, Saturday will be the first NFL head coach in 61 years to take the job with no experience at the professional or collegiate level.
Adding to the absurdity of the situation, the Colts have two former NFL head coaches on their coaching staff in John Fox and Gus Bradley, who now must answer to a guy with zero relevant experience, who this time last week was dishing takes on ESPN. Saturday’s learning curve will be unforgiving: The Colts travel to Las Vegas on Sunday, and do not have their bye until the second week of December. Luckily, Jim Irsay and Chris Ballard picked just the right opponent for Saturday’s first big test:
Good luck, coach!