INDIANAPOLIS (AP)When Colts owner Jim Irsay first contacted Jeff Saturday, he wanted answers about Indy’s struggling offensive line.
Last weekend’s late-night callback came with an offer Saturday couldn’t refuse.
Less than 12 hours later, Irsay met with general manager Chris Ballard and the two then told coach Frank Reich he had been fired after 4 1/2 seasons.
Reich’s replacement is a gritty, energetic two-time All-Pro center with no coaching experience above the prep level and willing to do whatever he can to turn around the Colts season.
”When he said, `Hey, can you help me?’ Absolutely I’ll help,” Saturday recounted before his first practice as Indy’s interim coach. ”If somebody called and said this is an opportunity to say, for the people in this room and in this building, would you do it?’ Absolutely I’m going to do it.”
Saturday’s most immediate challenge now is getting the Colts ready for Sunday’s game at Las Vegas and he’s working overtime to prepare for his NFL coaching debut.
Since Monday’s announcement, Saturday has scrambled from one meeting to the next, made some key decisions and met with players.
The first priority, though, is helping the locker room plow through the turbulence all these midseason moves have created.
Perhaps nobody felt it more than Sam Ehlinger, who replaced Matt Ryan as starting quarterback two weeks ago.
Since then, Ehlinger has seen his offensive coordinator fired, his head coach fired, a friend traded and his assistant position coach, Parks Frazier, promoted to play-caller.
”I made the decision based on where the coaches were and trying to move as few pieces and parts as I could,” Saturday said. ”With Parks being the floater, he’s been here the longest. I think he’s been here since 2018. He knows the offense extremely well.”
The chaos and confusion of recent weeks would be enough to keep anyone’s head spinning, much less a second-year player such as Ehlinger who is scheduled to make his third career start this weekend. Saturday has already clarified one thing – Ehlinger will continue to start.
None of it has been easy.
”Nobody has been expecting anything that has happened,” Ehlinger said. ”I didn’t know who was going to be the head coach. I was working out, I heard and I was fired up because it’s a great opportunity to move forward and get behind Jeff and finish the season strong.”
One thing that did help Wednesday was getting back on the practice field.
But the hard part will be finding solutions to what has gone wrong.
Saturday inherits a team that has lost three straight. The offense averages a league-low 14.7 points, has allowed a league-high 35 sacks and is tied for the league lead in giveaways (17).
Indy (3-5-1) has failed to score a touchdown in three games this season and, at times, has performed embarrassingly poorly.
That’s why Irsay initially contacted Saturday – to find out why he thought the NFL’s highest-paid offensive line gave up so many sacks last weekend. Saturday told reporters he couldn’t answer because he was watching other telecasts to get ready for his job at ESPN.
He also insisted he did not speak with Irsay about the job a week earlier when he attended the induction of friend and former teammate Tarik Glenn into Indy’s Ring of Honor.
Turns out, Irsay could have simply consulted three-time All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson.
”Love him as a coach and person and appreciate everything he’s done for the Colts and my success. A lot of that is because of him,” Nelson said, referring to Reich. ”I feel like there’s times this season I let down Coach Frank and contributed to his firing.”
While some outsiders question Irsay’s decision to change coaches with eight games left and Indy still in the playoff hunt, others suggest the move means Indy will ”tank” for a franchise quarterback in April’s draft, players offered support for their new coach.
Irsay’s move also has been criticized as a way to skirt the Rooney Rule, which is designed to help minority coaching candidates be included in the interview process.
Irsay has hired two Black head coaches, Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell, and had a Black coordinator in Marcus Brady until he was fired and has promised to comply with the Rooney Rule before hiring a coach following this season.
Inside the team complex, there doesn’t seem to be any complaints.
Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said he likes what Saturday brings, acknowledging the Colts needed a jolt of energy. Starting linebacker Bobby Okereke said he’s embracing the change and that it could be good for the team. Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly and Nelson like the fact they have a former offensive lineman calling the shots.
And Saturday, an undrafted free agent, is content to use this eight-game audition to show everyone Irsay made the right call.
”I’ve got big shoulders. I knew the bullets I was going to take,” he said. ”I may be terrible at this and after eight games, I’ll say, `God bless you, I am no good.’ I may be really good at it. I have no idea, but I dang sure ain’t going to back down.”
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