INDIANAPOLIS — On Monday evening, Indianapolis Colts owner and CEO Jim Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard introduced five-time Pro Bowl Colts center Jeff Saturday as the new interim head coach of the team after the firing of Frank Reich.
“It was a difficult decision to make, made with great thought,” Irsay said.
The hiring came as a surprise to many due to Saturday possessing zero experience as a coach at the collegiate or NFL level. Saturday has been the head coach at Hebron Christian Academy in Decula, Georgia, and is currently an analyst for ESPN.
But when asked about the lack of Saturday’s experience, or if Irsay ever considered another choice as interim head coach, Irsay said there was only Saturday.
“Yes, he is fully experienced enough,” Irsay said, calling the former Colts center capable, smart, competitive, and a man who understands the game of football.
Ballard said he and Irsay had a “long” and “spirited” talk about the change at head coach. He said Saturday has been on the team’s radar for years, however, and that they’d tried to hire him to be an offensive line coach in 2019.
“I spent a lot of time with Jeff… it doesn’t take long to figure out he has real leadership in him,” Ballard said. “We thought he was going to be a really good fit with us.”
Saturday admitted he was shocked as anybody when he got the call from Irsay.
“Shocked would be an understatement,” Saturday admitted.
But Saturday said he feels “fully capable” and said football and being a leader are “the two things I love.”
But in choosing Saturday, Irsay bypassed two individuals on the staff with head coaching experience: defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and senior defensive assistant John Fox.
When asked about bypassing the coaches already on his staff with NFL coaching experience, Irsay stood by his decision saying, “because he’s a better fit. He’s the best man for the job. There is no question about it in my mind.”
Irsay called Saturday “extremely tough’ and a “leader.” Noted Saturday’s intelligence, open-mindedness, and how he can create a culture of trust. But mostly, Irsay kept circling around to one point:
“When you’re looking for head coaches leadership is the number one thing,” Irsay said. “Certain people just have it… and when you see it you know it.”
While Saturday will be taking over for the remaining eight games, and “hopefully more,” according to Irsay, the Colts will hold an official search and review of head coaching candidates in the off-season.
“There’s no talk of permanence at this point. Right now, it’s an interim head coaching position,” Irsay said, though he did call Saturday a “promising candidate” to be a longterm solution at head coach.
When it came to firing Frank Reich in the middle of the season, Irsay said it was difficult. He stated he used to talk about lifting up a Lombardi trophy with Reich as the coach.
“This league is tough and things change,” Irsay said. “(Reich is) a pro and he understands.”
“It was time.”
In all of Irsay’s time as owner of the Colts, he has never fired a coach during a season. When asked why now, Irsay responded that simply that “things change.”
“We saw things collapse. I’ve seen things go from bad to worse and I thought it was time.”
He said sometimes things just change.
“I never had a quarterback retire on me at age 29 in his prime,” he said.
But when it comes to Saturday, Irsay seems to have all the confidence in the world. Experience or not.
“You want to bet against this guy? Put your money now, people,” he said with a laugh.