Chris Ballard

Jim Irsay Still Pushing For Jeff Saturday Hire; Eric Bieniemy, Raheem Morris In Mix

The Colts lost seven of their final eight games, finishing 4-12-1. The team had not lost seven games to close out a campaign since its inaugural season in 1953. But Jim Irsay still looks to be pushing to keep Jeff Saturday, the interim head coach he stunned the NFL by hiring in November.

Saturday is going through his second interview Wednesday, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter, who adds as many as seven candidates will advance to the second round of interviews (Twitter link). That list includes Ejiro Evero, and ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano tweets Rams DC Raheem Morris will receive an in-person meeting. The Colts held virtual interviews with 13 candidates — the most of any HC-seeking team this year — but Irsay was not involved in those sessions. He will be there for the second interviews.

Irsay said in November he hoped Saturday would stay on as a full-time HC, and although no team has made an interim coach a full-time hire since the Jaguars removed Doug Marrone‘s interim tag in 2017, CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson notes Irsay is still pushing for Saturday. More pushback has emerged, however. Just as Irsay confidants attempted to dissuade him from hiring Saturday two months ago, Anderson adds (via Twitter) those close to the owner are again attempting to convince him Saturday is the wrong choice.

Indianapolis should also be expected to meet with Eric Bieniemy and special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone for a second time. Each remains in the mix, Graziano adds, though no second interviews with either have been scheduled. Bieniemy has generated extensive OC interest around the league, being connected to open jobs and likely on the radar for some that will soon be available, but ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler notes the longtime Chiefs OC is focused on potential HC gigs. Only the Colts, however, have interviewed him for their job.

Some around the league believe this will come down to Bieniemy or Saturday, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk adds. Considering the backlash both the Saturday hire and Bieniemy’s extended time on the HC carousel have each generated, the Colts choosing Saturday in that instance would create more controversy.

Andy Reid has been the Chiefs’ primary play-caller since 2013, and while Bieniemy has been labeled as a poor interviewer at points during his long run as Reid’s right-hand man, the fifth-year OC has been in place in this role throughout Patrick Mahomes‘ QB1 stay. Considering Mahomes is about to win a second MVP award and will do so after the Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill, that should reflect well on Bieniemy. Judging by the Arizona, Carolina, Denver and Houston searches, however, teams are not closely connecting the Reid lieutenant to such success. Bieniemy and Colts GM Chris Ballard worked together during the latter’s time in the Chiefs’ front office, though Fowler adds the Saturday-Irsay relationship continues to loom over this process.

Ballard ran the first set of Colts HC interviews, SI.com’s Albert Breer notes, adding that Carlie Irsay-Gordon (Jim’s daughter) has played a key role throughout this process as well. Ballard attempted to talk Irsay out of the Saturday hire in November and admitted as much this month. It should be expected the seventh-year GM will keep pushing for a different hire, but Irsay obviously will make the final call. This process should drag into next week, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com adds (video link).

Saturday promised extensive changes if he were to land the full-time job. He offered ex-Frank Reich staffers Scott Milanovich and Scottie Montgomery OC duties, but each turned down the job. That led to assistant quarterbacks coach Parks Frazier receiving the opportunity. The Colts started three QBs during Saturday’s stay (Matt Ryan, Nick Foles, Sam Ehlinger) but only won one game under interim coach. The team’s NFL-record collapse in Minnesota and other shaky performances did not exactly give Saturday momentum coming out of the season. If Irsay bucks staffers’ advice and goes in this direction again, it would make for one of the most interesting decisions in coaching history.

Colts Interview Eric Bieniemy For HC Job

A big name has been added to the list of Colts head coaching candidates. Owner Jim Irsay announced on Twitter that the Colts have completed an interview with Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.

This is a sudden development in the organization’s head coaching search, but not a particularly surprising one. Zak Keefer of The Athletic tweets that the Colts have been “digging” on Bieniemy over the past few days.

A fixture on head-coaching carousels in recent years, Bieniemy has been unable to land a top job. The coordinator was connected to all seven head coaching vacancies during the 2021 campaign, but he only interviewed for two gigs (Saints, Broncos) in 2022. Now, after years of interviewing for a head coach job, Bieniemy has secured only his first interview of the year.

A Chiefs assistant throughout Andy Reid‘s nine-year tenure, Bieniemy has been the team’s OC throughout Patrick Mahomes‘ QB1 run. A report indicated that the 2021 season was somewhat trying for Bieniemy mentally, and the prospect of sitting out 2022 or returning to the college ranks emerged. He ultimately decided to stick in Kansas City, and despite the loss of wideout Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs offense still managed to lead the NFL in points and yards.

Bieniemy would be a logical fit in Indianapolis, where the Colts are looking for a head coach to replace Frank Reich and (potentially) interim HC Jeff Saturday. As ESPN’s Stephen Holder tweets, the coach has “strong ties” to Colts general manager Chris Ballard dating back to their time in Kansas City.

As our 2023 NFL Head Coaching Search Tracker shows, the growing list of known and potential Colts head coaching candidates includes:

Colts Open To Trading Up For Quarterback; Jeff Saturday In Play To Stay

Chris Ballard confirmed November reports he did not back Jim Irsay‘s decision to hire Jeff Saturday as the team’s interim head coach, but the six-year Colts GM also said Tuesday (via SI.com’s Albert Breer, on Twitter) that Saturday will be a candidate to stay on as the team’s full-time hire.

As that strange partnership persists, for the time being, the Colts find themselves in their best position to draft a quarterback in some time. While Josh Allen went off the board one spot after the Colts selected Quenton Nelson five years ago, Indianapolis was not exactly in need of a QB at that point. Since Andrew Luck‘s sudden retirement in 2019, the Colts have only made one first-round pick (Kwity Paye in 2021) and opted to make two trades to fill their starting QB post. Neither the Carson Wentz nor the Matt Ryan deal ended up working out.

The Colts will be a candidate to trade up for a passer, injecting more intrigue into the team’s highest draft choice (No. 4 overall) since Luck 11 years ago.

“I’ll do whatever it takes,” Ballard said (via ESPN.com’s Stephen Holder) regarding a trade-up. “If we thought there’s a player that we’re driven to get that makes the franchise and the team better, that’s what we would do. We understand the importance of the position. To get one that you can win with and to be right is the most important thing — not if we take one or not. It’s being right.

Looking back on it, when you’re changing quarterbacks every year, it’s tough. It’s tough on everybody. It’s tough on the team. Not getting that position settled has a little something to do with [the team’s tumble].”

It might take moving up to the No. 1 spot to select Alabama’s Bryce Young, whom the Texans will likely covet at No. 2 overall. ESPN.com’s Todd McShay has both C.J. Stroud (Ohio State) and Will Levis (Kentucky) going in the top six. Colleague Mel Kiper Jr. slots Stroud as the No. 4 overall prospect and Levis outside the top 10.

While the Colts have experienced good fortune after bad seasons, falling into the Luck and Peyton Manning draft slots. Nabbing Nelson at No. 6, following a 2017 season Luck missed all of due to a shoulder injury, has also worked out well. But Luck’s retirement thrust the Colts into a tailspin. They may be connected to yet another veteran — after the Philip Rivers-Wentz-Ryan carousel — this offseason, but strong consideration will be given to reinvesting via the draft.

Ballard said he told Irsay just before the Saturday hire: “This is unprecedented, and we’re putting him into a really tough situation here.” The longtime GM added that he will lead the search for the team’s next head coach, but Irsay will make the final call.

Ballard’s first coaching search produced a historically unusual twist, with Josh McDaniels backing out of a verbal agreement. The Colts’ Reich hire produced two playoff berths, but Irsay — in a rather eventful year for the outspoken owner — pulled the plug on that as the team struggled to start this season. Despite Indy’s woes intensifying under Saturday, he is expected to be interviewed soon.

He knows the internal workings and he’s been able to see the inside of what he wants to fix,” Ballard said when asked if Saturday has a leg up on the outside HC candidates. “But we will have a process that will be equal for everybody.”

Jim Irsay Assures Colts GM Chris Ballard Will Return In 2023; Jim Harbaugh On HC Radar?

Several teams have disappointed this season, and the Colts are near the top of that list. They have gone from a team that led the NFL with seven Pro Bowlers last season to one with a 4-9-1 squad that just blew an NFL-record 33-point lead.

The Colts have already fired their head coach and offensive coordinator, promoting their assistant quarterbacks coach to call plays, and have made multiple quarterback changes. Jeff Saturday‘s showing in Minnesota likely will lead to him not being retained as Indianapolis’ full-time HC, and prior to the Vikings loss, Jim Irsay indicated he was looking forward to interviewing a host of HC candidates. But the second-generation Colts owner is still planning to keep Chris Ballard in place as GM.

I think a lot of Chris,” Irsay said, via Zak Keefer of The Athletic (subscription required). “Young GMs make mistakes. He’s been up against it. The No. 1 component is he’s an outstanding talent evaluator. He has this [Bill] Polian-esque touch in the draft room. There have been some things … people don’t realize, you have to learn as a general manager. You just don’t get it overnight. I feel very confident in where we’re going.”

The directional confidence part is a bit strange to read, considering what has happened to the Colts over the past year, and it should be noted Irsay issued this Ballard support prior to the team’s 39-36 loss Saturday. But Irsay said upon hiring Saturday that he intended for Ballard to return next year. The Colts are 1-4 since those comments. Ballard, however, had attempted to talk Irsay out of the Saturday move. While Irsay has said it will be Ballard’s job to hire coaches, Keefer adds some around the league are convinced the owner will pursue Jim Harbaugh in 2023.

Long connected on the coaching carousel’s fringes, Harbaugh surfaced in a real way this year by interviewing with the Vikings. Harbaugh also recently announced he would stay at Michigan for a 10th season, but just before that pledge, NFL teams were doing homework on him. Some around the league wonder if Colts interest could change Harbaugh’s Ann Arbor plans, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com notes. The former quarterback spent four years with the Colts, leading them to two playoff berths and an AFC championship game in the mid-1990s, and is in the team’s ring of honor. Harbaugh, who has led Michigan to back-to-back College Football Playoff berths, signed a new deal with his alma mater this year. Should Harbaugh truly be on Indy’s radar, Ballard’s personnel power could be at risk — at least compared to where it is now.

Ballard, 53, built what looked like one of the league’s top rosters — though, one without a long-term quarterback — and last year’s Pro Bowl count reinforced confidence the Colts sported a strong foundation. The Colts have extended Ballard draftees Shaquille Leonard, Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith. Two of Ballard’s Day 2 picks from 2020 — Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman Jr. — will likely be on the extension radar soon as well. But the team has not truly climbed out of the hole Andrew Luck‘s sudden retirement left it in three years ago.

Irsay drove the trade of Carson Wentz to the Commanders and pushed Ballard to finalize the Matt Ryan swap. The latter move has not panned out for the Colts, and Irsay was behind the midseason QB switch that led to Sam Ehlinger rising from third-stringer to starter. It is safe to say this has been a rather chaotic year for the Colts, who returned all seven of those Pro Bowlers this season. Ballard has, however, been rather stingy in free agency since being hired in 2017. That has placed more pressure on his homegrown core.

Last year, Ballard and Reich signed extensions that run through 2026. The former returning in 2023 would mean considerable pressure to both aid Irsay on the team’s next HC hire and fix the quarterback position. Ballard’s last HC search did not go smoothly, with Josh McDaniels reneging on an agreement and Reich being the fallback hire. The next one not panning out would almost certainly lead to Irsay going GM shopping.

Colts Execs Attempted To Dissuade Jim Irsay From Jeff Saturday Hire

Of the 43 interim head coaches hired this century, the Colts’ Jeff Saturday move generated by far the most attention. Saturday’s inexperience headlined last week’s NFL news cycle, and high-ranking Colts staffers aimed to convince Jim Irsay to go in a different direction.

Both GM Chris Ballard and team president Pete Ward expressed reservations about Irsay’s plan to hire Saturday, according to Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL.com. Others joined Ballard, who is in his sixth year as GM, and Ward, who has been with the Colts since before their 1984 Indianapolis move, in advising against the decision. But Irsay steadfastly pulled the trigger on Saturday, who is now 1-0 as Colts HC.

Irsay called Saturday during the Colts’ Week 9 loss to the Patriots, discussing the team’s protections. That discussion led to an offer to become Indianapolis’ interim HC. Had Saturday not accepted the job, Irsay would not have fired Frank Reich, Zak Keefer of The Athletic notes (subscription required). That points to Irsay’s conviction on the inexperienced coach while also revealing an obvious lack of desire to promote one of Reich’s assistants to the post.

[RELATED: Irsay Reaffirms Commitment To Ballard For 2023]

Some of Reich’s assistants have expressed displeasure with Irsay’s call, and it is safe to say the Colts’ staff will look considerably different next season. Following last week’s report of quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich turning down the opportunity to call plays, Rapoport and Pelissero confirm as much and note the Colts’ play-calling offer did not include any adjustments to his current contract. Milanovich, a former Grey Cup-winning head coach, has been Indy’s QBs coach since 2021, when the team promoted Marcus Brady to replace Nick Sirianni. The Colts fired Brady earlier this season.

Milanovich and running backs coach Scottie Montgomery — each of whom having play-calling experience, though most of it coming outside the NFL — will play a big role in game-planning, Saturday said. But Parks Frazier has made the unusual leap from assistant QBs coach to play-caller.

Saturday also had the freedom to bench Sam Ehlinger and reinstall Matt Ryan as the starter, a choice Irsay does not appear to have made available for Reich. The five-year Colts HC did not back the Irsay-driven pivot to Ehlinger, and Keefer adds the players were not behind the Ryan benching as well. Despite Ryan’s nine interceptions and 11 fumbles through seven games, Keefer notes the Colts’ roster viewed the veteran as the player who gave the team its best chance to win. Recovered from his shoulder injury, Ryan received first-team reps during Colts practice last week, Keefer tweets.

The Colts did enjoy the opportunity of facing a Raiders defense that has slipped from below average — under current Colts DC Gus Bradley — in 2021 to one of the league’s worst units. Las Vegas ranks 28th in both points allowed and total defense. The Colts still entered Week 10 as underdogs, and their Saturday-Frazier-Ryan direction nevertheless led to a victory. Moving to 4-5-1, the Colts remain a fringe AFC contender — record-wise, at least — and outings like Sunday’s will provide ammunition for Irsay’s hope of Saturday sticking around beyond 2022.

No interim HC has been retained since Doug Marrone kept the Jaguars’ reins, after the team fired Bradley, in 2016. Saturday moving into position to buck this trend would add to the scrutiny engulfing the Colts, but it is safe to say traditional norms regarding interim HCs do not apply here. This is undoubtedly one of the most interesting interim stretches in modern NFL history.

Colts Rumors: Saturday, Ryan, Fields, Rivers

The Colts made headlines on Monday when the team decided to fire head coach Frank Reich, naming former center Jeff Saturday the interim head coach for the rest of the year. The decision to appoint Saturday drew widespread surprise as Saturday has no former NFL coaching experience.

Team owner Jim Irsay defended the decision even claiming that Saturday could remain head coach beyond the 2022-23 NFL season, according to ESPN’s Stephen Holder. General manager Chris Ballard claimed that the Colts attempted to bring Saturday into the league coaching circle in 2019 as an offensive line coach and approached him about a position this year, as well. Saturday has reportedly served as a consultant for the team, with Irsay contacting him as recently as Sunday during the team’s loss to the Patriots to inquire about blocking issues, according to Zak Keefer of The Athletic.

Here are a few other rumors concerning the Colts:

  • In response to former Colts head coach Tony Dungy‘s recent accusations that the team benched starting quarterback Matt Ryan in order to stay within the boundaries of an injury guarantee in Ryan’s contract, Irsay attempted to set the record straight, according to Bob Kravitz of The Athletic. Irsay insisted that there are no playing time guarantees in Ryan’s contract. “There’s no such thing,” Irsay claimed. “There’s no bonus if Matt plays a certain amount of time.” If such an incentive does exist, it has not been reported.
  • Mishandling the revolving door of quarterbacks in Indianapolis was a factor that led to Reich’s dismissal, according to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated. Breer posits that, instead of going after former quarterback Carson Wentz, the team should have moved up to select Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, something he reports “was a very real consideration for Ballard and Reich early in the process.” The team instead selected Michigan pass-rusher Kwity Paye, allowing the Bears the opportunity to move up and select Fields. The Colts would later trade Wentz away to Washington after one season.
  • One of the other quarterback situations that didn’t work out in the long run for Indianapolis was the signing of Philip Rivers in 2020. According to Jeff Howe of The Athletic, Ballard signed Rivers expecting the veteran to lead the team’s offense for multiple years. Although Rivers did take the Colts to the playoffs, he retired after one season with the team, leading the Colts to make more moves for Wentz and, eventually, Ryan in the years to follow.

Scott Milanovich Turned Down Colts’ Play-Calling Duties?

Jim Irsay‘s unusual decision to name Jeff Saturday as his team’s interim head coach has not been well-received around the league. Among Frank Reich‘s holdover staffers, a fair amount of unrest has emerged.

Saturday is going with assistant quarterbacks coach Parks Frazier as his offensive play-caller in Week 10, but Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post reports Frazier was not the first choice. QBs coach Scott Milanovich, a former Jaguars play-caller who helmed the Toronto Argonauts to a Grey Cup as head coach in 2012, turned down the chance to call plays.

Milanovich called plays in Canada and for a short stretch with the Jaguars. He has been on Reich’s staff since last year. While Frazier has been with the Colts since Reich’s 2018 arrival, the 30-year-old does not have play-calling experience and was on the quality control level as recently as 2020. The Colts also have former East Carolina HC and Maryland OC Scottie Montgomery on staff as running backs coach; Montgomery was on the Panthers’ OC radar this offseason.

[RELATED: Reich Aiming For Another HC Job]

Irsay’s decision to hire Saturday has caused tumult among staffers and players, according to La Canfora, who adds Matt Ryan and other veterans were “irate” when informed of the Reich-for-Saturday swap. Some vets have said they do not want to play for the team any longer, though the trade deadline having passed limits players’ options. GM Chris Ballard, whom Irsay said was not in danger of being canned, told players the Saturday decision came “directly from the owner.” Irsay made that plain with his comments this week.

Irsay being behind the firing of offensive coordinator Marcus Brady is not surprising, but La Canfora notes the owner overruled Reich on quarterback selection. Reich did not view Sam Ehlinger as ready to play, and although the since-fired HC did not want to bench the struggling Ryan, he would have gone to Nick Foles before Ehlinger. Reich said this offseason he had wanted to acquire Foles in previous years. Prior to Ehlinger replacing Ryan, he moved past Foles as Indy’s QB2. It does not appear Reich backed that move.

The Colts are 0-2 with the 2021 sixth-round pick starting, and although Ehlinger drew praise from Reich, some around the league believe the Colts are tanking with their Saturday-Ehlinger-Frazier strategy. Irsay vehemently pushed back on that notion (via The Athletic’s Bob Kravitz), but the Colts — who also traded Nyheim Hines‘ through-2024 contract to the Bills at the deadline — will be far less experienced in key spots when they face the Raiders on Sunday.

That’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard, that we’re tanking,” Irsay said. “That’s bulls—. We’re in this thing; 9-7-1 get us in, no question about it. … We’re not tanking the season. Whoever says these things, that we’re not playing Matt because [of an effort to tank], that’s all bulls—. That’s not true. … We’re going to do what it takes to win. I don’t know who people think we are, they don’t know us. We don’t tank in Indianapolis.”

Irsay also said, via Kravitz, Ryan could play again this year. Previously, the thought was Reich’s 2023 injury guarantee will keep him sidelined. Ryan has missed time with a shoulder injury, but upon switching to Ehlinger, Reich said the move was not injury-related. The longtime Indianapolis owner said it is inaccurate to suggest he forced the QB switch on Reich, indicating Saturday will have free rein to change quarterbacks. Irsay has, however, taken a hands-on role regarding quarterbacks this year. He forced the trade of Carson Wentz and instructed Ballard to finalize the Ryan deal, so his fingerprints being on the Ehlinger move would not be a stretch.

The Colts won the Andrew Luck sweepstakes 10 years ago, going 2-14 in 2011. But the team losing Peyton Manning for a full season led to that pick, rather than a full-fledged tanking effort. Though, the Colts certainly benefited from losing at the right time. Indianapolis has yet to find a Luck replacement; the team will certainly be linked to first-round passers in 2023.

Reich’s staff also includes DC Gus Bradley, a four-year Jaguars HC who has been on the coordinator level for over a decade, and former Panthers, Broncos and Bears HC John Fox, a senior defensive assistant. Special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone is viewed as a rising talent in the coaching ranks. The Saturday decision and Irsay’s defense of the choice has drawn criticism from other staffers around the league, Kimberley Martin of ESPN.com tweets.

The Rooney Rule does not apply to interim hires. Rod Graves, the director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said (via CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson, on Twitter) that should change going forward. The NFL’s expanding of the Rooney Rule in recent years certainly points to the possibility it will later apply to interim hires. It is not yet known if the league will discuss that matter for potential 2023 application.

Colts To Keep GM Chris Ballard, Still Undecided On Play-Caller

This disappointing Colts start has led to the firings of the team’s top two offensive staffersFrank Reich and OC Marcus Brady — and produced one of the more shocking interim hires in modern NFL history. Former Colts center and current ESPN analyst Jeff Saturday is now in charge.

Saturday said (via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero, on Twitter) he is still determining who will call plays when the Colts face the Raiders on Sunday. Saturday, 47, said he will interview coaches on staff this week for this rather important role. Quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich and running backs coach Scottie Montgomery, an ex-East Carolina HC whom the Panthers had on their OC radar this year, would seem the top candidates. Milanovich called plays as the Jaguars’ interim OC in 2018.

Sam Ehlinger will remain the team’s starting quarterback, Saturday said. The 2021 sixth-round pick has struggled since replacing Matt Ryan. The former MVP’s turnover woes and his 2023 injury guarantee contributed to the Colts’ Ehlinger promotion. Nick Foles remains on the roster and worked as Indianapolis’ backup to start this season. With Jim Irsay having helped drive Reich and Chris Ballard to bench Ryan, it is unsurprising Saturday will stick with Ehlinger.

Regarding Ballard’s role, Irsay said (via ESPN.com’s Field Yates, on Twitter) there is “no question” the GM will return in 2023. Irsay hired Ballard during Chuck Pagano‘s HC tenure, and the former Bears and Chiefs exec initially chose Josh McDaniels to be the Colts’ HC in 2018. The Reich backup plan worked well at points, but Andrew Luck‘s shocking 2019 retirement decision changed the franchise’s trajectory.

A coveted GM candidate prior to his 2017 Colts commitment, Ballard signed an extension last year. Of course, so did Reich. Ballard and Irsay did not appear in lockstep regarding the Reich firing, but the former said Monday night the Colts tried to hire Saturday to be their offensive line coach in both 2019 and this offseason, Pelissero tweets. The Colts also tried to give Saturday — a six-time Pro Bowler who played with the team from 1999-2011 — a front office position in 2012. Saturday instead signed with the Packers and wrapped his 15-year career that season. Saturday has been with ESPN since 2013.

The Colts bypassed former head coaches Gus Bradley and John Fox, who are respectively on staff in defensive coordinator and senior defensive assistant roles, for Saturday. Peyton Manning‘s longtime center indeed indicated shock upon being offered the position. Irsay hopes Saturday will be the Colts’ coach beyond 2022 (Twitter links via Pelissero and The Athletic’s Zak Keefer). While Saturday said Monday he was auditioning for other teams’ HC jobs as well, he has never coached at the NFL or college levels. Saturday has coached at the high school level. Irsay said there was “no other candidate.”

Saturday will become the first man without college or NFL coaching experience to lead an NFL team since Norm Van Brocklin, h/t CBS Sports (on Twitter). The Hall of Fame quarterback went straight from leading the Eagles to the 1960 NFL title to becoming the expansion Vikings’ first head coach. Van Brocklin lasted six years in that post and caught on with the Falcons in 1968, holding that job for seven years. Of course, the NFL is a bit more scrutinized since the fiery QB made that leap; a vast news-cycle difference between that era and this one obviously exists. That sets the stage for a fascinating interim tenure for Saturday.

Irsay’s decision has stunned several Colts decision-makers, Keefer adds (on Twitter). Expanding on his Saturday choice Monday night, Irsay said the former All-Pro will not resemble a nervous NFL coach that will lean on analytics, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets. That certainly adds an interesting wrinkle here, increasing anticipation for Saturday’s interim HC stay.

This has been a big year for Irsay-driven headlines. As is his right, Irsay pushed Ballard and Reich to both jettison Carson Wentz — after the Colts gave up first- and third-rounders for the ex-Eagles QB — and trade for Ryan. This has been a big year for the longtime owner, whose team came into the season with a sixth starting QB in six years. Not many teams have matched that accomplishment, and only two — the Chargers from 1987-1993 and Browns from 2013-19 — have started seven Week 1 passers in seven years since the 1970 merger. The Colts are trudging toward joining that exclusive club. Judging by how 2022 has played out, Irsay stands to have a major say in how the Colts proceed on that front next year. It will be interesting if the owner has Saturday in the picture when that QB decision comes.

Latest On Colts HC Frank Reich, GM Chris Ballard

An owner-imposed quarterback change is generally not a good omen for a head coach or general manager, and Colts owner Jim Irsay‘s recent mandate that Indianapolis bench offseason trade acquisition Matt Ryan for 2021 sixth-rounder Sam Ehlinger has led to speculation that HC Frank Reich and GM Chris Ballard could be on the hot seat. However, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com hears from multiple sources that Reich is safe and that his job is not at all in jeopardy.

It seems Reich has done enough to merit additional time as the club’s sideline general. The Colts hastily pivoted to Reich after being jilted by Josh McDaniels during the 2018 coaching cycle, and under Reich’s watch, Indy has compiled a 40-30-1 regular season record. The only year in which the team did not post an above-.500 record was in 2019, when Andrew Luck unexpectedly retired weeks before the regular season got underway.

On the other hand, the Colts’ collapse in the final two weeks of the 2021 campaign — which featured a Week 18 loss to the 2-14 Jaguars to eliminate the team from the postseason field — is a black mark on Reich’s resume (though former QB Carson Wentz has shouldered plenty of blame for that disappointment as well). The fact that Indianapolis has not won a eminently-winnable division during Reich’s tenure is also working against him.

Of course, the team has been slapping duct tape on its quarterback situation since Luck’s retirement, and while 2020 signal-caller Philip Rivers led the Colts to a playoff berth, the subsequent additions of Wentz and Ryan did not go as well. It would hardly be fair to blame Reich for QB development when the QBs he has had to work with have been near the ends of their careers or otherwise became expendable in the eyes of their prior clubs. Instead, the growth of Ehlinger over the remainder of the season may be more reflective of Reich’s acumen.

It may not even be fair to lay the blame for the QB carousel at Ballard’s feet, as Irsay is more involved when it comes to his franchise’s signal- callers than he is with other aspects of roster construction. Indeed, Ryan’s health and injury guarantees for 2023 may have been a factor in his Irsay-led demotion, and Irsay spearheaded this offseason’s Wentz trade as well.

Nonetheless, Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports believes the seats are warming for Reich and Ballard, and he spoke with one AFC executive who said, “I’m concerned for them. They’re already being questioned about how they evaluate quarterbacks, and if [Ehlinger] comes in there and doesn’t play well, it’ll reflect poorly.”

Irsay himself has responded to the speculation in an emphatic way. He said he has given no thought to moving on from either his head coach or GM, and he added, “I’m in a great spot with Chris and Frank. We’re all re-energized with the move to Sam Ehlinger. Nothing is easy but [I] feel really good” (Twitter link via ESPN’s Chris Mortensen).

Jim Irsay Led Charge For Colts’ Matt Ryan Benching

Jim Irsay has placed his hands on the Colts’ personnel steering wheel at key junctures this year. Nine months after the owner insisted Carson Wentz be a Colts one-and-done, he led the way to Wentz’s replacement being benched.

Over the past few weeks, Irsay let Chris Ballard and Frank Reich know a change was needed at quarterback, Zak Keefer of The Athletic reports, noting Ballard was onboard with benching Matt Ryan for Sam Ehlinger before Reich reached that conclusion (subscription required).

Pointing out that the quarterback position provides an exception to Irsay’s policy of letting Ballard and Reich run the show, Keefer adds a Sunday-night meeting — similar to the Irsay-Ballard-Reich summit shortly after the Colts’ Week 18 meltdown in Jacksonville — led to the call to demote Ryan. Ryan’s sprained shoulder will sideline him in Week 8, but he will soon become a healthy backup for the first time since Boston College’s 2005 season. Ryan’s 12 turnovers — nine interceptions, three lost fumbles — lead the league.

Irsay’s prompting also comes months after he instructed Ballard to finalize the trade for Ryan, whom the Falcons dealt to the Colts for a 2022 third-round pick. Indianapolis went more than a week in between the Wentz and Ryan trades, discussing a deal with Jameis Winston during the days between those moves. But once the Falcons’ Deshaun Watson courtship commenced, the Ryan-to-Indy path formed.

The Colts have traded a first-rounder and two thirds to bring in their past two starting QBs, though they recouped considerable value by shipping Wentz to Washington this offseason. Indianapolis will now turn to a former sixth-round pick at the game’s marquee position.

Select scouts communicated to SI.com’s Albert Breer they believe Ryan’s arm is shot, and Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio points to Ryan’s injury guarantees as the reason the Colts are moving away from him seven games in. The Colts restructured Ryan’s contract this offseason, ballooning his 2023 cap number to $35.2MM. Ryan will see $12MM guaranteed next year, but $7.2MM more would come via injury guarantees if the 37-year-old passer cannot pass a physical on Day 3 of the 2023 league year, Florio adds. Ryan’s $10MM 2023 roster bonus is also guaranteed for injury, leading to the Colts’ effort to bubble-wrap their initial 2022 starter.

The Colts continue to battle uphill in the years after Andrew Luck‘s August 2019 retirement. After acquiring Ryan, they joined the Broncos and Commanders in starting a sixth Week 1 quarterback in six years. Fewer than 10 teams have gone through that much QB1 turnover since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Indianapolis will run that streak to seven next season. Only two post-merger teams — the Chargers from 1987-93 and Browns from 2013-19 — have trotted out different Week 1 starting QBs in seven straight years. Ehlinger, who has yet to throw a regular-season pass, will attempt to make his case to be that starter.