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Colts’ hiring of interim Jeff Saturday is already wild. But his success could be a problem for the NFL.

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Just minutes after what became the most enthusiastic promotional offer for an interim coach in NFL history, the only person within earshot of Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay buying the interim nature of Jeff Saturday’s job was Irsay himself. And this was probably only because Irsei constantly emphasized the “temporary” tag himself, as a gubernatorial candidate returning to the spine of his political theses.

But if you’ve taken the brunt of Saturday’s press conference, which was the first introduction of any NFL coach, you’ve probably sensed the significant gravity of one topic: This hire is real. It’s not some weird genial trick to get some coveted quarterback in the next draft. Irsay invites Saturday with the goal of eventually making him the franchise’s permanent head coach.

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Given how this all happened, this could be a major loophole/headache in Rooney’s rules for the league. We’ll come back to this in a moment, but first we have to step back and consider how Irsei turns a historically routine title transfer into something with lasting consequences.

Indianapolis Colts interim coach Jeff Saturday speaks as team owner Jim Irsay listens during a press conference at the NFL's training facility on Monday, November 7, 2022, in Indianapolis.  (AP Photo/Derron Cummings)
Indianapolis Colts interim coach Jeff Saturday speaks as team owner Jim Irsay listens during a press conference at the NFL’s training facility on Monday, November 7, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Derron Cummings)

Yes, Jim Irsay compared it to Don Shula.

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We saw temporarily hired head coaches, but nothing like that. Nothing that would bind the candidate from outside the organization as well as no coaching resume above high school level. It’s an authority that should scream that the audition is temporary, only to have that assumption drown in a sea of ​​superlatives. That’s what Irsey lavished on Saturday in his opening remarks – a ceremony fit not only for a new coach, but for a recruit the Colts’ owner has apparently been coveting for some time.

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Here’s how he described his feelings for (and about) the former Colts center who played for the franchise from 1999 to 2011: “Very excited…excited…fully tested…fully capable…extremely smart…extremely competitive…understands the game.. . “

“Do you want to bet against this guy?” Irsei said in a moment of emotional punctuation. “Put down the money, people. I love to see it.”

There was something almost cartoonish about it all. Not only because Saturday became the first interim coach since 1961 without coaching at the college or NFL level, but also because it was hard to follow the metric Irsay used to ignore that reality. Instead of one reliable data point, Irsei offered a chaotic palette of memories, feelings, and metaphors, relying on his inner instinct.

“Yes, there is a maturation curve,” Irsey said at one point. “[Don] Shula was 32 years old. He had three nondescript years with the Detroit Lions before taking over the reins. [for the Baltimore Colts] in 1963. No, the game is no different. We don’t build rockets to go to Mars. We are not nuclear scientists. It’s not our job here. These are very simple jobs that we do here. We cultivate a culture of victory. We cultivate toughness.”

Well, here’s what. Mixing this hiring with the hiring of Shula, one of the greatest coaches in NFL history. Who also had two years of college experience and three years in the NFL before landing the head coaching job. In 1963 no less. Sixty years ago. It’s a deep cut, as is his mention of learning the weekly setup with Ted Marchibroda, who hasn’t been a Colts coach since 1995. It was almost in this century, so it seemed like progress. And he continued.

The Baltimore Ravens got a straightforward win over the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football with Lamar Jackson throwing his 100th career passing TD, the Indianapolis Colts fired head coach Frank Reich and replaced him with ESPN analyst and former All-Pro lineman, Jeff Saturday, and the Houston Astros celebrated their World Series with a parade featuring a familiar sight.","thumbnailUrl":"","uploadDate":"2022-11-08T04:42:01Z","duration":"PT2M8S","contentUrl":"","embedUrl":"","identifier":"7cbb1bb7-30d6-3022-910f-f42bb9914a9d"}

Why the NFL sees Rooney Rooney’s headache on the horizon

He called Saturday’s hiring “an intuitive decision” and that the selection of Super Bowl-winning head coach Tony Dungy was methodical and analytical, “like the CIA.” But this? It was the opposite. Less like the precision of a conspiracy and more like something extremely sloppy about the DMV.

“Have you ever seen a car from the inside? Perfect. We leave on the freeway.

Here’s how Irsey at one point articulated Saturday’s lack of coaching credentials: “I’m glad he doesn’t have NFL experience. I’m glad he didn’t learn fear in this league. Because it’s hard for all our coaches. They are afraid. They go to analytics and it becomes difficult. That is, he does not have all this. He doesn’t have that fear.”

We could probably spend the whole day on witticisms. But I hope everyone understands now. In this, Irsei just flies in place. He leans toward familiarity and reaches for the past, like someone clinging to an old photograph that becomes more and more yellow over time. This happens sometimes with NFL franchises. And in this case, at least some of the mystery was translated by Irsei himself, noting that Saturday was a “paid consultant” for years, “informing” Colt owner, general manager Chris Ballard and others of his opinions on the team.

It’s not uncommon for someone the team owner listens to to get a job in the organization. It is rare that this work is at the top of the food chain and is therefore clearly intended to be more permanent than a timestamp. This is a reality that should be of concern to the NFL, which should see the loophole that Irsey exposed here. Not to mention the inevitable screams of bogus minority interviews if Saturday ends up turning this supposed test run into a full-time job.

Irsei just demonstrated that if you want to hire some of the free trainers, as you did on Saturday (think: any trainers in the media), you can recruit them under the tag “temporary” and then make them work permanently at the end. season. While it’s unlikely to happen to big names like Sean Payton, it’s certainly achievable with some of those non-standard test runs like Saturday. Of course, this could have been exploited by the Houston Texans when some high-profile members of that franchise were enamored with the opportunity to make Josh McCown their next head coach last season when he had no coaching credentials to speak of.

No one in Houston thought of such a workaround. If they did, McCown could have gotten a few games in practice at the end of last season under a temporary tag, potentially creating a dummy process that named him the Texans’ head coach this season. Instead, the Texans waited out the offseason and then the pursuit was undermined by Brian Flores’ class action lawsuit against the league alleging racial discrimination in the very process that will draw some distrustful looks to the Colts.

If Saturday establishes himself as the permanent head coach at Indianapolis, it won’t matter that Irsay tries to allay Rooney Rule’s fears by pointing to Tony Dungy as the head coach he previously hired, or that Dungy was replaced by Jim Caldwell for next season. . three years after Dungy’s retirement. All that someone will care about is the optics of the here and now. And this optics was clean on Monday.

Irsey came on Saturday without having to follow Rooney’s rule because it’s an interim managerial title. But the project is for Saturday to eventually get that job done full-time. One wonders how he manages to do so when the minority candidates see the tone of that opening press conference.

Irsei’s main target is not hidden after Monday. His Saturday hire is wild and unconventional, and it’s designed to last. What this ultimately means for the Rooney rule is the expectation of a mess. But the Colts and the NFL are already seeing it.


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