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Gaze Upon Irsay’s Folly

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - AUGUST 24: Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay on the field before the week 3 NFL preseason game between the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts on August 24, 2019 at Lucas Oil Stadium, in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It is generally agreed that Jim Irsay is not merely just another NFL owner whose principal qualification is having been born to an NFL owner—though he is that—but a member in good standing of that group’s wingnut subset. He certainly undercut his standing as the first brave man in the group to talk openly about the need for the league to move on from Dan Snyder. In one fell swoop Monday, he did a palpably daft series of things by hiring Jeff Saturday and his three years of high school coaching experience to replace Frank Reich, defending it in an unhinged presser by saying that he’s glad Saturday has no practical experience for the job, and therefore hasn’t learned the fear that comes from being a coach (huh?) who is enslaved by analytics (apparently it’s math that’s keeping the Colts from the Super Bowl).

So that’s yesterday’s news. Irsay clearly channeled his father Bob, an epically mercurial man with his own set of liquor-fueled inanities and insanities, and now the Colts are in the same kind of disarray they were in during most of Daddy’s time. Saturday’s hiring is right up there with the expansion Minnesota Vikings hiring Norm Van Brocklin as their first head coach directly from his job as quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, slightly above the San Diego Padres hiring Jerry Coleman directly from the team’s broadcast booth because he at least saw the team every day, and slightly below the Fort Wayne (now Detroit) Pistons hiring NBA referee Charlie Eckman to coach their team in the early ’50s when the prevailing theory was that giving technical fouls provided its own level of zen.

But it does cause ethicists across the world to wonder if Saturday might not have at least been honor-bound to say before the conversation got rolling around to salary and staffing, “No Jimmy, I’m flattered and all and I appreciate the thought, but that’s qualitatively nuts.”

And who knows? Maybe he did. Saturday seems a sensible sort, at least on TV, and it wasn’t even his prep coaching experience that got him him the ESPN gig. He was a former Colts center in good standing, or squatting if you must be pedantic, and that’s it. Or maybe his TV gig got him this job, thus raising an ancillary question of what Irsay would have done if he was watching Dan Orlovsky, Mina Kimes, or the captain in Below Deck at the moment he decided to fire Frank Reich.

But that was the question to be asked when Mark Davis hired Guys He Saw On TV. Our question is whether Saturday should have simply declined with thanks, and we suspect the answer to that is, “No, with a capital hell.” Coaching pays well, for starters; Saturday at least enjoys it enough to do it for a pittance at storied old Hebron Christian High in Dacula, Ga.; and the idea of running a team at the highest level of one’s chosen sport is surely a grand intoxicant.

But none of that replaces the things coaches learn by coaching, and it isn’t like Saturday brings a well-documented and unique slant on football in the modern age. He knows how to play, and he played well, plus he surely understands that he would never be afforded a second opportunity. He did say he was beyond shocked when the offer was extended. He didn’t say how much he resisted, if at all.

Saturday’s momentary good fortune is mostly thought to be bad fortune in a time-released capsule. The Colts were, are, and will be awful, no matter how many times Irsay compares his GM to Michael Jordan, because among other things, Michael Jordan never played quarterback but even at age 59 would probably be no worse than the Colts’ backup and might even challenge Sam Ehlinger for the starter’s job. And quarterback isn’t the Colts’ only deficiency, not by a long shot. If you actually listed them, Reich would have barely reached eighth, but when you have an angry owner, the coach gets fired first because if the owner fires the general manager, who fires the coach the general manager has been telling the owner to fire? The HR lady? The janitor? Joe Buck?

Saturday will now become part of the Van Brocklin/Coleman/Eckman Hall of WTF, Irsay is now his dad with more guitars, and somewhere Danny Snyder is paying someone to laugh his ass off on Dan’s behalf. That last one stings a bit.

So maybe Saturday could have fought harder to decline the offer, simply out of respect for his own reputation and what’s left of his new boss’s. Maybe Irsay is a supremely persuasive man. Or maybe it’s just the first rule of hiring: “When someone offers you a job you know you aren’t qualified to have, that’s on them, not you. Your duty is to make sure there is good 401(k) matching.” 

But maybe we’re all wrong and Saturday is actually a savant that only Jim Irsay is savvy enough to appreciate. After all, Charlie Eckman’s record in Fort Wayne and Detroit was over .500 and the Pistons made the NBA Finals in his first two seasons. And Fort Wayne’s not that far from Indianapolis. Coincidence, or something more sinister? Find out in our next exciting episode, “Colts vs. Raiders—Eyesore Or Nightmare?”