INDIANAPOLIS – Two months of the Indianapolis Colts moving further away from where everyone expects them to be haven’t drained the enthusiasm or altered the career aspirations of Jeff Saturday.
His days as interim coach are over. That title evaporated the second the Colts – his Colts over the final eight games – completed their maddening descent with Sunday’s 32-31 loss to the Houston Texans.
Officially, he’s back to being a team consultant.
More to the point, Saturday wants the job title that was in the dark recesses of his mind when owner Jim Irsay went a thousand miles outside the box and named him his interim head coach Nov. 7, the day he fired Frank Reich.
No interview has been set up with Irsay, but it undoubtedly will come.
Jeff Saturday’s response will be threefold.
I’ll be there.
The 1-7 finish that completed the 4-12-1 spiral; the first seven-game losing streak to end a season since 1953, the franchise’s first season in the NFL; the indelible moments – at New England, at Dallas, at Minnesota, at the New York Giants, the closing loss at home to Houston; we won’t bore you with the ugly details – didn’t convince Saturday he was better off returning to ESPN.
“It has not changed my mind,’’ he said Monday afternoon.
It’s clear Saturday already has pivoted from taking over a struggling 3-5-1 outfit in early November to entertaining thoughts of inheriting one that’s heading into a critical offseason and clutching the 4th overall pick in the April draft.
Just listen to him.
“If I get this job,’’ he said, “there is going to be significant change. The way I do things is not the way things necessarily have been done. I have my own way.
“As you’re thinking about the way you want to run an organization as the head coach, that would be my responsibility. When I came in, I’m thrust into how things had been done for the past however many years . . . it will look different.’’
He was just getting started.
“Listen, I have a very clear vision how I can turn this football team around,’’ Saturday said. “I have a plan of attack, that I understand this is what I believe has to happen for us to turn a corner.’’
There were few details because they are the topic of conversation when Saturday sits across the table from Irsay. But there were a few. Most notably, he will hire offensive and defensive coordinators and allow them to do their jobs.
Unlike many analysts and outside observers, Saturday doesn’t believe the Colts are that far away. Never mind they have won four of their last 19 games, had the worst division record (1-4-1) since the AFC South was formed in 2002 and absorbed four losses of at least 20 points for the first time since 2017.
“Not nearly as far as y’all think,’’ Saturday said with a laugh. “I’ve seen some articles out here recently, so I can assure you a lot of shots fired.
“I don’t think we’re nearly as far off as you guys believe we are. I think the line in football between winning and losing is very narrow.’’
Evidence to the contrary: the Colts finished with a league-worst minus-138 point differential. During Saturday’s eight-game “audition,’’ the Colts were a minus-87. That would be the league’s fifth-worst differential for the entire season.
More evidence: a league-high 34 turnovers and 60 sacks allowed, second-most in the league. And no long-term answer at quarterback, until the April draft, that is.
Saturday steadfastly believes he’s learned from the past two months, and that he and general manager Chris Ballard can turn things around. The first priority would be building a strong coaching staff.
A handful of players in the locker room were impressed by Saturday’s handling of an untenable situation – taking over in midseason, inheriting an unstable quarterback situation, offensive coordinator Marcus Brady already having been fired – and wouldn’t mind seeing him as their permanent head coach.
“I’d love to have Jeff back,’’ center Ryan Kelly said. “I don’t think you can have Jeff with the current staff. The current staff was all Frank’s guys. That’s a constant reminder of who used to be here.’’
Kelly was impressed by Saturday’s authenticity.
“There’s things he doesn’t know and he’s the first to admit that,’’ he said. “As a player, you like to hear that. NFL players can smell BS better than anybody else. You can just see it written on a person’s face.
“You have to respect that. I think everybody did.’’
Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner spent extra time with Saturday during Monday’s exit interviews.
“I told him I think he has all the qualities of being a great head coach,’’ he said. “If he got that opportunity and was able to put a really good staff around him, he has all the qualities of being a head coach.
“He’s a great leader, a leader of men. Just the culture and the accountability he brought to the team over the last eight weeks of the season was tremendous.’’
Linebacker Shaquille Leonard agreed. He was asked if he wanted Saturday to return.
“Yes,’’ he replied without hesitation. “I think when Jeff came in, he did a phenomenal job of true accountability, holding guys accountable. I loved the way that he leads. I love the way that he brought this team together.
“People got to understand, man, he was brought in week (10) if I’m not mistaken. He did not know these coaches from a can of paint.
“If you give him a full season with coaches, a whole offseason to learn everything, I think he’ll be a great coach, man. The way that he carries himself, the way that he holds guys to a high standard. It don’t matter who you are. He’s on you and that’s the type of leadership you need as a head coach. It don’t matter who it is. I love that from a coach. I love when coaches are on guys and pushing them to be their best, man, and that’s what we need.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.