INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts are headed into the Great Unknown.
And they’re being led by a great unknown.
That’s not a knock on Jeff Saturday, who’s still settling into his interim head coaching chair after Monday’s firing of Frank Reich.
It’s the truth. Listen to the man who’ll lead the Colts to . . . somewhere.
“Here’s the deal, man,’’ Saturday said Wednesday during his first full-blown press conference. “None of us are promised a good job. I may be terrible at this and after eight games, I’ll say, ‘God bless you, I am no good.’’’
“I may be really good at it,’’ he continued in his normal upbeat, quick-tempo rhythm. “I got no idea, but I dang sure ain’t going to back down. I can tell you that.
“If life ain’t an adventure, it ain’t for me. I’m ready to do this. I take a challenge head-on.’’
So much has transpired in a short period of time.
A whirlwind, Saturday said.
Owner Jim Irsay contacted Saturday after one of New England’s nine – nine! – sacks of quarterback Sam Ehlinger during Sunday’s abysmal 26-3 loss that proved to be the final episode in Reich’s career with the Colts. Saturday has been a paid consultant the past few years and offered advice on the offensive line.
“He was upset,’’ he said. “He was asking me what was going on. It was, ‘What the H is going on with our protection?’’’
The call wasn’t about Reich’s fate. It wasn’t about whether Saturday was interested in replacing him at least for the final eight games of the season.
As it turned out, Saturday wasn’t even aware of the offensive meltdown going on in Foxborough, Mass. In his role as ESPN analyst, he was focused on other games.
The call that would reshape the Colts and reverberate across the NFL landscape came late Sunday. Or was it early Monday morning?
“Irsay carries different hours than me. He’s a lot later,’’ Saturday said with a laugh. “It was like 1 o’clock in the morning when, ‘Would you consider it?’’’
Saturday hung up and talked with his wife, Karen. They prayed.
But the longer the franchise icon shared the details of those life-altering hours, the more evident it was he could never have turned down the opportunity, even though it would mean leaving his family at their home in Georgia while embarking on an unexpected journey.
Monday morning – somewhere between 9 and 10; the actual time remains fuzzy – Saturday accepted a dramatic career move.
“I called him back and said, ‘Let’s do it,’’’ he said.
“Because I care,’’ Saturday said. “I told the guys this morning, I care about the players. I care about their families. I’ve sat in their seat, man. This sucks. I like Frank. I’ve talked to Frank. We’ve texted. I love Frank, man. I was working with Frank, right? He’s a heckuva football coach.
“I care about the staff and their families. These guys work hard. They sacrifice for their families. They sacrifice their time, energy and effort. I know the equipment room, I know media relations, I know training room. These guys are my people, bro.’’
Saturday, 47, is one of those individuals synonymous with the horseshoe: 13 seasons (1999-2011); 231 games, including the postseason; six Pro Bowls; two trips to the Super Bowl with one world championship; Ring of Honor. He was working at an electrical supply store in North Carolina in the spring of ’99 when then-team president Bill Polian reached out to gauge his interest in joining the Colts.
“Like, my adult life was forged here,’’ Saturday said. “Like, my wife and I, we raised our kids here. These people matter to me. This organization matters to me, right? The people in the community matter to me.
“I mean, everybody thinks this is flippant. This is not. I care. When (Irsay) said, ‘Hey, can you help me?’ ‘Absolutely, I’ll help.’’’
So, Wednesday, the unexpected journey began in earnest.
There was his introductory meeting with the players, normal organizational meetings, get-to-know-you sit-downs with players, a morning walkthrough, the head coach’s noon confab with the media, probably another meeting or two, then the afternoon practice.
By all accounts, Saturday’s address to the team was well received.
“He came in with the energy and that’s something we need right now,’’ said defensive tackle and captain DeForest Buckner.
“Genuine, honest,’’ added quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
Saturday was one of the Colts’ unquestioned leaders during his playing career. And that was with a group replete with leaders: Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis, Dwight Freeney, Edgerrin James, Tarik Glenn, etc.
That hasn’t changed. And neither has the man.
“Try to let them know what I’m about, what my expectations are, what they can expect of me,’’ Saturday said. “I thought that really went well. Look, I’ve got to earn their trust. There’s no doubt about that. That’s going to take time.’’
He insisted he’ll address every issue – every question – “straight up.’’
“One hundred percent,’’ he said. “That’s me. I’m not going to change. I told them if I’m not authentic, we’ve got nowhere to go.
“It’s who I am.’’
As practice unfolded, Saturday moved from one section of the field to another. He stopped to chat with this player or that player, and often hesitated to pat another on the shoulder.
Essentially, things remained the same.
“I’ve made minor adjustments in practice, different stuff I would prefer, order,’’ Saturday said.
From the outset, he’s dealing with an undermanned offensive staff. Prior to the firing Reich, coordinator Marcus Brady was fired.
“Let’s be real,’’ Saturday said. “The two guys that called our plays – the OC and the head coach – all gone. That’s a big deal. I hope people understand the weight of what that is.
“Now you’ve reduced the people and increased the workload and you bring in a guy that’s not familiar with all the stuff that goes into real ball, so I’m playing catch-up.’’
One of Saturday’s first decisions was giving play-calling duties to Parks Frazier, the team’s pass-game specialist/assistant quarterbacks coach.
“These are good football coaches,’’ Saturday said. “They are very bright people that know their roles and everyone to a man has stepped up and then some. ‘Can I stay late? What else can I do? What other box can we check together?’
“I think it was Reggie, slapped the table, ‘Let’s go!’ He got excited.’’
He was asked if defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone would continue to handle their responsibilities.
“Oh yeah, and I hope they do it as well as they’ve been doing it,’’ he said. “Golly, that’s a lean-on. ‘C’mon man. C’mon Gus. C’mon Bubba. Make this thing happen. Help me look really good.’’’
Despite the support staff and roster he inherited, Saturday realizes the lights will shine brightest – perhaps harshest – on him. Optimism was in full supply Wednesday, but this remains a 3-5-1 that takes a three-game losing streak to Las Vegas Sunday.
“I’ve got big shoulders,’’ he said. “I know the bullets I’m going to take. I’m good with it.
“My role here is for eight games. When this is over, they will do an exhaustive search and pick whoever their best candidate is to be the head coach of the Colts. If I’m considered, I’d be honored.
“I have no idea where this thing is going to go, not even a little bit. But I can assure you, it’s going to be handled.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.