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NFL insider details alarming disconnect, issues within Indianapolis Colts’ organization

Matt Johnson
Indianapolis Colts
Robert Scheer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay stunned the NFL world on Monday, firing head coach Frank Reich and immediately naming Jeff Saturday as the interim coach. Now, new details about the Colts’ process point to issues within the organization.

Irsay’s decision to hire Saturday, a member of the Colts’ Ring of Honor who lacked any coaching experience above high school, sparked criticism around the league. Former All-Pro lineman HJoe Thomas blasted the decision, pointing to the reckless decision-making by Irsay and highlighting how the hire allowed Saturday to jump ahead of far more experienced coaches.

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During Saturday’s introductory press conference, Irsay defended the move alongside general manager Chris Ballard. The press conference delivered bizarre quotes, with Irsay’s grasp of running a football team coming into question. At the time, though, it seemed like the front office was aligned on the decision to hire Saturday. It now appears that wasn’t the case.

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, both Ballard and Colts’ team president Pete Ward were among the voices who expressed strong reservations about hiring Saturday as interim coach. Despite objections from his top executives, Irsay was “hellbent” on hiring Saturday and convinced him to take the job less than 24 hours after the loss to the New England Patriots.

While Saturday is widely viewed as a natural leader, his resume makes him the most inexperienced interim coaching hire in NFL history. In his final season as a high school football coach, Saturday’s team went 3-7 then he stepped down to spend more time with his family.

“I’m glad he doesn’t have any NFL experience. I’m glad he hasn’t learned the fear that’s in this league, because it’s tough for all our coaches. They’re afraid. They go to analytics and it gets difficult. He doesn’t have all that. He doesn’t have that fear. And there was no other candidate. We were fortunate he was available. And he has tons of experience. He knows this game inside and out with relationships with coaches and players.”

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay on interim coach Jeff Saturday

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Irsay stated in his press conference that Ballard will return as general manager and he would like Saturday to be the team’s head coach in 2023. While there will be an official coaching search in 2023, Irsay’s decision-making and his commitment to Saturday will likely influence top coaching candidates to turn down inquiries from Indianapolis.

Unfortunately for the Colts, there seemed to be another troubling issue after Saturday was hired.

Indianapolis Colts hired Jeff Saturday’s second choice as play-caller

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Las Vegas Raiders
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

During his introductory press conference, Saturday revealed that he still didn’t know who his offensive coordinator and play-caller would be for the rest of the season. While he ultimately hired Parks Frazier, a 30-year-old assistant quarterbacks coach whose only NFL experience came with Indianapolis, it wasn’t Saturday’s first choice.

Related: Indianapolis Colts’ Jim Irsay downplays tanking allegations

According to Rapoport, the play-caller position was first offered to quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich. The 49-year-old has coached since 2003, serving in a variety of roles including as a head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in the CFL.

However, the Colts weren’t willing to revise his current contract. After the team refused to adjust his contract to reflect the promotion, Milanovich turned the job down and Indianapolis pivoted to Frazier.

The Colts’ entire hiring process will impact the perception of the team moving forward. If Ballard is fired, NFL executives will be weary of working for an owner with a history of routinely overstepping the decisions of his general manager. Coaching candidates might also avoid Indianapolis, viewing other openings as far more stable.