Colts coach Jeff Saturday may have been an accident, but he hopes to start a trend.
The former Colts center, more than a decade removed from playing for the team and having no college or pro coaching experience, got the interim head-coaching job in Indianapolis last week. With limited time to prepare and under challenging circumstances (to say the least), he won his debut game.
Saturday told Peter King of Football Night in America that Saturday hopes his experience and performance will result in more former players getting similar chances.
“Part of the reason why I did accept the job is for that exact reason,” Saturday told King. “I hope that many other former players will get opportunities like I’m getting. I was at ESPN when Aaron Boone was there, and then two days later he’s the manager of the Yankees. And basketball, right? I’ve watched all these guys get these opportunities. Like I told the team, my leadership is the number one quality. I’ve talked to Tony Dungy, I’ve talked to Jim Caldwell. Those were the two men who led me the most. Both told me to drive into who I was as a player, as a leader of men during those times. Lean on those things that you’re extremely good at. And that’s uniting people. I told the staff and I told the players, my job is to empower them to be the best they can be.”
If it works, the universe of potential coaching candidates will have dramatically expanded. For better or for worse. And, even if Saturday prompts more owners to take “outside the box” to the extreme, the practice of hiring someone with no college or pro coaching experience remains an affront and an insult to those who have been grinding away, teaching and working and learning and leading.
Indeed, Hall of Fame head coach Bill Cowher called the move a disgrace to the entire profession. King asked Saturday for his reaction to that sentiment.
“I respect his opinion, you know?” Saturday said. “Here’s the thing. God is my defender, man. I don’t have to defend myself. I am absolutely comfortable in who I am. I respect all those guys. Whoever has whatever negative opinion, I can assure you, it’s not gonna change who I am or what I believe I’m called to do. I have no idea, and I still don’t, how successful I’ll be, but we’re gonna work hard at it and I believe I can lead men and lead the staff. I’m excited about the opportunity.”
King also asked Saturday about criticism from former NFL offensive lineman Joe Thomas, who said Irsay simply gave the job to his “drinking buddy.”
“I had no idea that he said that,” Saturday said. “I can assure you, I have never gone drinking with Jim. I don’t even know that Jim drinks. I don’t drink very much either. I don’t know Joe. I’m not worried about what Joe thinks about me or anybody else. Like I told you, the Lord will defend. I feel like I’ve been called to do it, so I made the decision to do it. Again, no disrespect to either of those men. They are who they are and said what they said. It will not sway me.”
So far, so good. And we’ll see how it goes. Literally. The Colts will play three of their final seven games in prime time. At 4-5-1, Saturday has a chance to extend this experiment in the ultimate on-the-job training beyond Week 18.