Five Things Learned

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5 Things Learned: Why Jim Irsay, Chris Ballard Hired Jeff Saturday As Colts' Interim Head Coach

The Colts on Monday parted ways with Frank Reich and hired Jeff Saturday as interim head coach. On Monday evening, Saturday, Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard discussed why the changes were made, and what their expectations are for the rest of the 2022 season. 

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1. Why the Colts moved on from Frank Reich now.

Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay began his press conference Monday evening thanking Reich for his 4 1/2 seasons as head coach, but emphasized that "it was time" for a change with his team sitting at 3-5-1 more than halfway through 2022.

"This week is tough and things change," Irsay said. "(Reich's)'s a pro and he understands. He understands this league and this business. It was a difficult decision to make, made with great thought, a decision that gets cultivated over many, many months and years, actually, where you're integrating your thinking into understanding when a time is right and when it isn't.

"Because it's an intuitive thing. There's no rulebook that tell you – now you should make a change, now you shouldn't."

Irsay met with general manager Chris Ballard following the Colts' 26-3 loss to the New England Patriots Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, and the pair talked again late Sunday night. From there, the decision was made to part ways with Reich.

"Things change," Irsay said. "In 27 years, I never had a quarterback retire on me at age 29 in his prime. Things change. You change the way you move out to try to deal with each situation and you never like to make a change much less during the season. It's not ideal.

"In Chris and I talking, we saw things collapse and I've seen things go from bad to worse and I thought it was time and it was necessary to make the change as of this morning."

2. Why the Colts decided on Jeff Saturday as interim head coach.

Saturday, who was a six-time Pro Bowler, two-time first-team AP All-Pro and Super Bowl champion during his 14-year NFL career, may not have experience as an NFL or college head coach, but the Colts believe in his football acumen, leadership and open-mindedness as critically-important traits that'll give him a strong chance to succeed as the team's interim head coach.

"He's the best man for the job. There's no question about it in my mind," Irsay said. "I've been around it a long time. The last coach I hired as an interim head coach was Bruce Arians. It was the right coach. He was the best guy. That's why. There's no other mystery behind that.

"I can talk about (Saturday). First of all, he's extremely tough and he's a leader. When you're looking for head coaches, leadership's the No. 1 thing. That's the No. 1 thing. That also has a toughness level there. Highly intelligent. That's very important. You have to be a great thinker, you have to be able to work with people, you have to be open-minded, you have to create a culture where people trust you. You have to know the game, you have to have experience, you have to be able to draw upon experience in your life to come forward and do what a head coach does in this league. It's very difficult.

"There are lots of coordinators that aren't good head coaches. Certain people just have it. They have it. You see it when you know it. It's brought with a lot of things that bring that to the table but let's be very clear, this thing was driven by what Chris and I see in his excellence and his readiness and who he is."

Ballard said the Colts had tried to hire Saturday on two occasions – first in 2019 as offensive line coach, and second in 2022 for a role with the team, but "the timing didn't work out," he said. This time around, though, the fit and the timing made sense to the Colts – importantly, as Ballard emphasized, with the team not willing to throw in the towel halfway through the season.

"I spent a lot of time with Jeff – like I have with a few of the ex-players here, and it doesn't take long to figure out that he's got real leadership in him, real special in that regard," Ballard said. "For this eight-game stretch and where we're at, we thought he was going to be a really good fit for us."

Once the 2022 season ends, the Colts will go through a full process of interviewing head coaching candidates. Irsay said he doesn't have any big-picture expectations for Saturday right now other than getting the Colts ready to play the Raiders on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

"There's no talk of permanence at this point because right now it's an interim head coaching position," Irsay said. "When the season ends, we will have an interview process and we'll see where it goes from there. Obviously, we think he is one of those candidates that should be a very promising candidate to be the long-term head coach, but we have to go through that process."

3. Why Saturday decided to take the job.

Saturday admitted it would be an understatement to describe him as "shocked" at the offer to be the Colts' head coach, but underlined his own confidence in his ability to do the job. After talking with his wife, Karen, Saturday considered the opportunity in front of him and jumped at it, knowing the challenge ahead while believing he's the right man to lead the group of players and coaches assembled in Indianapolis.

"I feel fully capable," Saturday said. "I'm excited about the opportunity – eight games. Here's the great part about my career, I came in and nobody expected anything. I'm here and no one expects anything. If it goes well, hopefully it will go extremely well.

"But I have no preconceived notion that I'm going to be some spectacular anything. I know I've got to work hard. I'm auditioning not only for this one, but for 31 others just like everybody else in this game. Make no mistake, the job is win and I know that's what I'm here to do. How can I arm the guys in that locker room and how can I arm those coaches to be the best they can be?

"Again, I believe in them. I wouldn't be here if I didn't, and that was made clear to both Jim and Chris. If I didn't believe in the guys in the room, if I didn't believe in the guys in that locker room, I wouldn't show."

Saturday, while serving as an analyst for ESPN and a consultant for the Colts, said he's long thought about how he might approach things from a coaching perspective if an opportunity were to arise. He's kept an annual sheet of who he thinks the top offensive and defensive coordinators are in the NFL, as well as a running list of coaches he'd want on his staff.

His inspiration for keeping those tabs came from spending time with John Lynch, who did the same thing for team-building while serving as a commentator for FOX Sports after his playing career ended. Lynch, who's in both the Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Rings of Honor, has been the San Francisco 49ers' general manager since 2017 (with no prior front office experience) and was named the 2019 Pro Football Writers of America Executive of the Year.

"I don't pretend to be the smartest guy in the room, right? I'm here to make the guys who are really smart even better," Saturday said. "What can I give them? I've been with Hall of Famers, whether that be player or coach, general manager. I've seen great leadership at its pinnacle and I've learned a lot.

"I've gleaned a lot and I continue to try and grow as a leader, but I think that's probably my strongest quality, is I'm a leader of men, I don't shy away from it and excited about it. That's my passion and I love it. Football just so happens to fit that mold. But that's what I love – when I can do the two things I love, I can lead a group of men and coach football, I'm not going to say no to that."

As for how he'll coach, Saturday laid out his philosophy on Monday night.

"I'm excited about the opportunity, I'm excited about working with those men in the locker room, the coaches here and building something special," Saturday said. "It's hard work. There's nothing easy about it. It's hard to win a game in this league. I don't come in with these preconceived ideas of who I'm going to be. I'm going to be who I've always been. I'm going to hold people accountable, I'm not going to demean people.

"You all know me, been around me for 20 years. I am who I am. I don't change. I'm probably more spirited than most, my voice, you'll definitely be able to hear me, but I'll hold people accountable. When I was a player, I held people accountable and I'm going to be your toughest critic, but I'm going to be your biggest cheerleader. I've always done that, I've always believed in that and that's the way I wanted to be coached and that's how I'll continue to coach."

4. Saturday is close to deciding on an offensive coordinator.

Saturday arrived back in Indianapolis on Monday and said he's been "drinking from a fire hydrant a little bit," while meeting with so many people around the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. He said he's interviewed some people and will continue to interview folks on the Colts' coaching staff to be offensive coordinator, but as of Monday night had not decided on who will fill that role going forward.

"I've met with the offensive staff. I haven't had the chance to meet with the defensive staff," Saturday said. "But I met with the entire staff – then already a few guys and I'll continue that through the night, come to a conclusion and we'll roll from there.

"Listen, the great part about this and I'll just say this, there are fantastic coaches on this staff and men who have done this a long time. There's former head coaches, but there are guys in that offensive room who have called a lot of games and a lot of plays. There's a lot of men who have put a lot of time into this.

"I have no fear I will pick the right guy and we will ride with it. I'm excited about the opportunity. I'm just trying to get a grasp of what their needs would be for them and how I can support them in doing that and we'll make a move."

5. The Colts will stick with Sam Ehlinger and Bernhard Raimann.

Saturday will move forward with Sam Ehlinger as his starting quarterback, while rookie Bernhard Raimann will start on Sunday against the Raiders after getting the starting nod in Week 9 against the Patriots.

From a player standpoint, though, Saturday is looking forward to the opportunity of getting in front of his team and earning their trust and belief.

I've got to earn it," Saturday said. "Everybody. Not just players. Coaching staff, staff – you've got to earn your place here. I'm going to walk into that room – here's the great part about the NFL, we're all on a trial basis. Only one guy up here is secure and he's in the middle (Jim Irsay). The rest of us aren't safe.

"Make no mistake, yeah, you're going to earn it. I hope they understand the expectation that I have from them is no different than the expectation I have for myself. I'm going to be here ready to work, showing up prepared, be a pros pro. That's my expectation of those and I think that travels anytime in sport, man.

"I've spent my life in a locker room. I don't think I'll have a problem getting with guys and if they see I'm authentic and I'm who I am, then I think we'll do just fine together. They won't see a different version of who I am. I'm excited about it. I love the locker room. There ain't nothing more fun. It's the most transparent place you'll ever go. I wish everybody in America spent time in a locker room because it's as real as it gets."

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