“In light of the recent interim head coaching hire in Indianapolis, the FPA has initiated an inquiry with the NFL into whether this hiring process conformed with NFL Hiring Guidelines for naming an interim Head Coach,” the FPA said in a statement (via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport on Twitter).
The NFL has said that the Rooney Rule, a policy requiring teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching positions, does not apply to interim HC gigs. Fritz Pollard Alliance executive director Rod Graves told NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero that the Rooney Rule should apply to interim hirings, and this latest statement “effectively formalizes the push for that change” (Twitter link).
League spokesperson Brian McCarthy told ESPN’s Stephen Holder that the Colts would be required to conduct a HC search that complies with the Rooney Rule following the season, at which time the organization will presumably be seeking a full-time coach. Colts owner JimIrsay also indicated as much following the announcement of Saturday’s hiring.
“At the end of the season, there will be a full process of reviewing permanent head coach, which we will have an interview process for and go from there,” Irsay said (via Holder). “This is for eight games and hopefully more.”
“I like the group; I like the support they give each other. They’re in clearly defined roles,” Saturday said. “And I’m happy with where they are. Bringing somebody in, trying to learn an entire process or how we’ve done things? I like where the guys are, so I don’t anticipate that. I’m not guaranteeing it, but in my head I haven’t even had a chance to get that far. I’m just trying to get Week 2 under my belt.”
Saturday stopping short of shutting down the prospect of outside staffers coming in is interesting, but considering how off the board his hire was, it would not surprise to see the new Colts HC consider bringing in some staffers while he is in charge. Here is the latest from the coaching scene:
Scott Milanovich confirmed recent reports he turned down an opportunity to be the Colts’ play-caller. The veteran assistant, who is in his second season as Indianapolis’ quarterbacks coach, said (via The Athletic’s Zak Keefer, on Twitter) “Ultimately, it just wasn’t the right situation, I don’t think, for me at the time and the and the team.” Milanovich called plays in the CFL and as an interim OC with the Jaguars four years ago. Both he and running backs coach Scottie Montgomery are set to be involved with game-planning going forward, but assistant QBs coach Parks Frazier will be the voice in Matt Ryan‘s helmet going forward.
The OC Milanovich succeeded in Jacksonville in 2018, Nathaniel Hackett continues to oversee a disappointing Broncos season. After picking up a win in London, Denver reverted to its pattern of sluggish second halves in Tennessee. Although injuries have steadily depleted Hackett’s offense, the unit is averaging a league-low 14.6 points per game and also struggled when more of its starters were healthy. Some of George Paton‘s peers are advocating for the second-year GM to be proactive with this coaching situation, per Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post, to better ensure he will stay on the job. Hackett hit the one-and-done radar stunningly early, but Paton’s status has not come up as much. Like Hackett, Paton was hired before the team’s new ownership arrived. While Paton has fared well in key aspects since taking the job in 2021, the Hackett-Russell Wilson partnership not working out has undoubtedly affected his perception.
Nick Sirianni spent three seasons as the Colts’ OC and worked with Frank Reich with the Chargers as well. The current Eagles HC did not shoot down the idea of Reich joining Philly’s staff, likely in a consultant-type role, via EJ Smith of the Philadelphia Inquirer. This would not only make sense for Sirianni, but Reich had a rather notable Eagles stay previously, being the OC on staff during the Birds’ Super Bowl LII-winning campaign.
Former Cardinals running backs coach James Saxon pleaded guilty to a domestic battery charge stemming from a May incident, according to ESPN.com’s Josh Weinfuss, who adds the longtime NFL staffer received a suspended one-year prison sentence. An Indiana judge instead gave Saxon, 56, one year of probation. The Cardinals placed Saxon on administrative leave in August; he resigned from the team last month. Saxon, who was on Kliff Kingsbury‘s staff since 2019, spent 23 years as an NFL assistant.
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.
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 Milanovichturning 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 Ryanas 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.
The Colts made headlines on Monday when the team decided to fire head coachFrank 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 Irsayhaving 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 jettisonCarson 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.
11:59am: In a surprising move, the Colts have announced former center Jeff Saturdayas their interim head coach. The 47-year-old spent all but the final season of his 14-year playing career in Indianapolis, earning a total of six Pro Bowl nods. A member of the team’s Ring of Honor, he has since worked as a consultant with them, along with a role as an ESPN analyst.
The decision to hire from outside the organization is noteworthy, given the presence of far more experienced options in Bradley and Fox. This will mark Saturday’s first coaching role at the college or NFL level, making this a borderline unprecedented hire. A press conference is scheduled for later today.
10:34am: The second in-season head coach firing has taken place in the NFL. Frank Reich has been let go by the Colts, reports ESPN’s Adam Schefter (Twitter link). The team has confirmed the news.
Reich had increasingly become the subject of scrutiny this season, his fifth leading the Colts’ sideline. The team has run into unexpected offensive struggles, and as the unit’s play-caller, the 60-year-old bore the brunt of criticism. Just last week, however, it had appeared as though his job was safe for at least the immediate future.
Yesterday, Indianapolis suffered a 26-3 loss to New England, representing another low mark on the campaign with respect to the offense. Second-year passer Sam Ehlingerwas making his second career start, after being installed as the starter in place of veteran trade acquisition Matt Ryan. That decision, it was later revealed, was driven not by Reich, but rather team ownerJim Irsay.
Another sizeable move came last week, when offensive coordinator Marcus Brady was fired. He did not handle play-calling duties, though, leading to questions of how much of a difference that move would make. It also pointed to Reich’s time with the Colts potentially being in jeopardy barring a significant turnaround. That certainly didn’t take place yesterday, and the team now sits at 3-5-1 on the year.
Indianapolis has faced inconsistency along the offensive line – once the undisputed strength of the team, and one of the best units in the league – and star running back Jonathan Taylorhas missed time with injury. Even when healthy, however, he has not played to the potential his first two seasons demonstrated. In the passing game, the team actually ranks in the top-10 in yards per game (257), but Ryan’s struggles with turnovers hamstrung the league’s lowest-scoring team and greatly influenced his benching. The lone move the team made at the trade deadline was sending backup running back Nyheim Hinesto the Bills.
Reich will depart with an overall record of 40-33-1. Three of his past four seasons had ended with winning records, but the team’s late-season collapse in 2021 cost them a playoff spot. A return to the postseason was considered a baseline expectation for 2022, especially given the stability Ryan was expected to provide after years of searching for a long-term Andrew Luckreplacement. It appears likely the Colts will be kept out of the playoffs once again this year, making the remaining weeks an evaluation period for Ehlinger and the team’s other young players.
The Colts’ remaining staff includes a pair of coaches with HC experience: defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, and defensive assistant John Fox. Former DC Matt Eberflus became the Bears’ head coach this offseason, one year after former OC Nick Sirianni departed for Philadelphia to do the same. Now, all three mainstays on Indy’s sideline are gone, with plenty of uncertainty surrounding the team moving forward. Reich joins ex-Panthers bench boss Matt Rhule as coaches now on the lookout for their next employer.
Colts’ owner Jim Irsay spoke publicly for the first time since being entered into rehab, and Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star noted some of the highlights in a seriesof tweets. Holder writes that Irsay has been aware of the Colts dealings, and has been following the team through the offseason. This includes conversations with head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson.
Here are some other notes from around the NFL:
Former Colts’ center Jeff Saturday is prepared to make a pitch for Indianapolis to host the Super Bowl in 2018, writes Mike Wells of ESPN.com. “I’m excited to get in front of the owners and present for our city,” Saturday said. “It’s not about what we did in 2012. I look forward to Super Bowl 52 being in Indianapolis. I think it’ll be a great day for all of us.”
The Saints are also vying for the 2018 Super Bowl, led by Jay Cicero of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, writes Larry Holder of NOLA.com. “I just know from the 20-something years we’ve been doing this, this is the most creative, thorough (bid). … We’ve put everything on the table. Everything. It’s the most use of our resources,” Cicero said. “Things we’ve never done and things the NFL has never seen before.”
The Saints have signed fourth-round pick Khairi Fortt, the team announced on their website NewOrleansSaints.com. Fortt, an outside linebacker out of California, is the final draft pick to sign with the team.
The Panthers have signed linebacker Billy Boyko to a two-year deal, reports Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer (via Twitter). Boyko was made available after being cut by the Raiders.
The Titans have signed five players from their rookie minicamp, reports Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean. The team signed running Waymon James of TCU, receiver Julian Horton of Arkansas, offensive lineman Viondy Merisma, cornerback Winston Wright and linebacker David Gilbert. The Titans released fullback Quinn Johnson, cornerback George Baker, linebacker Jamal Merrell and receiver Eric Ward (who was waived/injured) to make room on the roster.