Sun. Dec 4th, 2022

The Colts have left individuals across the NFL in a state of bewilderment.

“It’s laborious to fathom what’s going on there,” an opposing workforce govt puzzled.

That was the consensus amongst a couple of executives who have been polled by The Athletic and granted anonymity for this story so they might communicate freely after the Colts fired head coach Frank Reich and changed him on an interim foundation with former heart Jeff Saturday, who has no teaching expertise within the NFL or faculty and had been serving as an ESPN analyst.

Moreover, Colts proprietor Jim Irsay opted for Saturday over some certified candidates already on employees. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and senior defensive assistant John Fox have a mixed 20 seasons of NFL head teaching expertise. It’s widespread for groups to advertise a head teaching veteran in this sort of occasion, because the Panthers did final month with Steve Wilks on the heels of Matt Rhule’s firing.

One other risk, the Colts might have taken a trial run with particular groups coordinator Ray Ventrone, who’s seen as a coach on the rise. Or in the event that they have been extra within the sentimental route by hiring somebody from the Colts’ 2006 Tremendous Bowl championship roster, large receivers coach Reggie Wayne and assistant linebackers coach Cato June are additionally on employees. How do Ventrone, Wayne and June now view their futures with the group?

Diving additional down the rabbit gap, if NFLPA management expertise was engaging — Saturday was a key member who was credited for his position in negotiations through the 2011 lockout — Colts assistant offensive line coach Kevin Mawae was the PA president from 2008-12.

A few of these credentials are clearly extra essential than others. However throw all of them collectively, and it’s a recipe for why different groups are so shocked by the unconventional hiring of Saturday. Others on employees had related {qualifications} as Saturday — all have extra teaching expertise.

“By no means seen something prefer it,” the chief stated. “Won’t ever see something prefer it once more.”

What it got here right down to, in fact, was Irsay’s robust relationship with Saturday. And each proprietor has the appropriate to make these selections. However these selections, particularly the unconventional ones, at all times ship some sort of a message, supposed or in any other case.

How will others on employees really feel about getting leapfrogged? How are the gamers going to reply?

The Colts, in spite of everything, are 3-5-1 and nonetheless solely 2.5 video games behind the Titans within the AFC South and the Chargers for the ultimate wild-card spot. Whereas the Colts haven’t persistently performed like a workforce that has proven it’s able to a second-half run, the 2021 Raiders have been proof a midseason teaching change and a unique management voice can generally be sufficient to spark a workforce.

Irsay believes Saturday can present that spark.

“As a result of he’s a greater match,” Irsay stated Monday night time when requested why the Colts went with Saturday over the workforce’s personal assistants with earlier expertise. “He’s one of the best man for the job, and there’s no query about it in my thoughts. I’ve been round it a very long time. The final coach I employed as an interim coach was Bruce Arians. It was the appropriate coach. So, (Saturday), was one of the best man. That’s why. There’s no thriller behind that.”

“I’m glad (Saturday) doesn’t have NFL expertise,” Irsay stated. “I’m glad he hasn’t discovered the worry that’s on this league, as a result of it’s robust for all of our coaches. They’re afraid. They go to analytics, and it will get troublesome. I imply, he doesn’t have all that. He doesn’t have that worry and there was no different candidate. We have been lucky that he was obtainable. He has tons of expertise.”

It’s honest to marvel now, nonetheless, if within the coming months, when the Colts are attempting to rent their subsequent head coach, how will potential candidates view the soundness of the place? If Saturday is the hand-chosen alternative by possession, the following spherical of interviewees will likely be on alert that one thing like this might repeat itself, in response to a former NFL head coach. These with prior head teaching expertise are typically extra selective with their subsequent job alternatives, figuring out it’ll doubtless be their final shot, and this might now be an element.

Two opposing workforce executives and one assistant coach used the identical phrase to explain Monday’s occasions: “Loopy.”

The confusion wasn’t essentially rooted in protection of Reich, who’s revered by his friends however understandably got here below hearth after a 3rd consecutive loss — a 26-3, noncompetitive blowout in New England. It was the breaking level for a workforce that had excessive aspirations this season earlier than opening with a 20-20 tie in opposition to the Texans and a 24-0 loss to the Jaguars. Frustration mounted nearly weekly because the workforce underperformed, particularly on offense.

Now, the rival executives, together with a pair basic managers, are questioning about GM Chris Ballard’s future.

“They’ve whiffed on the QB place since he obtained there,” a league govt stated.

Whereas that time has advantage, Ballard — and Reich — have additionally handled some misfortune on the sport’s most essential place. Ballard arrived in 2017 and franchise quarterback Andrew Luck missed the complete season 2017 on account of shoulder surgical procedure. Luck returned in 2018 and made his fourth Professional Bowl whereas main the Colts to the playoffs, however he surprisingly retired through the 2019 preseason.

Ballard signed Philip Rivers in 2020, believing the veteran was going to play a number of years, however he retired after one season regardless of taking the Colts to the postseason. The Colts then traded for Carson Wentz in 2021 and Matt Ryan in 2022, and neither quarterback panned out. Ryan was benched final month.

Ballard has solely drafted two quarterbacks in six years — Jacob Eason within the fourth spherical in 2020 and Sam Ehlinger within the sixth spherical in 2021. Eason was on the workforce for 17 months, whereas Ehlinger has endured a tricky couple of video games in his audition for future consideration.

The Colts are in a precarious spot. Irsay might have promoted Bradley or Fox as a last-ditch effort to salvage the season, however he opted to cope with the optics of an eight-game tryout for Saturday.

It was a complicated resolution because it occurred Monday afternoon. And if it doesn’t work and the season is actually misplaced, it will solely be the start of the fallout.

(Photograph: Justin Casterline / Getty Pictures)

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