What’s going on with the Colts right now is so strange I had to take a day off, cut the grass, and think about it before I put any thoughts into a text file.
Quick refresher if you’re not up to date on your NFL news:
The Colts have had their standard terrible start to the season. They benched quarterback Matt Ryan, allegedly for the remainder of the season, two weeks ago in favor of Sam Ehlinger, a sixth-round draft pick who began the year as the third-string QB. That didn’t help. Following the first loss with Ehlinger the Colts fired their offensive coordinator. Then Monday, after one of the ugliest losses in franchise history, the team fired head coach Frank Reich and announced that former Colt Jeff Saturday would take over as interim coach.
Those are the basics. Let’s dive into some details.
The Colts have long prided themselves on being a rational organization. Owner Jim Irsay is often in the news, and works actively with the front office, but has a reputation for hiring good people and letting them do their jobs. Not too long ago there was an article about how he has made pains to be a very different owner than his father, Robert, was. Robert Irsay was infamous for being drunk, shooting off his mouth, forcing bad decisions on the front office, and, of course, sneaking the team out of Baltimore in the middle of the night. Jim has a dark, complicated personal history. But in recent years has been one of the most vocal owners of any sports franchise in pushing for mental health support for athletes in particular and the wider population in general. Until Monday, he had never fired a coach during the season.
But this cycle of events would indicate that those placid days may be over.
There are completely legitimate reasons for firing Reich. He was brought in as an offensive guru and the offense has sucked this year. He’s shown a reluctance to call out players or bench guys who aren’t performing. In recent weeks he has seemed more resigned to his fate than fired up to change the Colts’ path.
That said, why now? Why fire him when the issues have more to due with personnel than scheme? When Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard have – allegedly – overruled Reich on several roster decisions over the past couple years.
Reich was a deadman walking, but it felt like he deserved better than getting shitcanned in November.
The real issue was bringing in Jeff Saturday as the interim coach. Saturday is a local hero because of his feel-good story – undrafted and out of football to perennial All Pro and Super Bowl champion – and general “good dude” vibes. But the man has never coached in the NFL. He’s never been a coordinator, a position coach, or even an on-field advisor. To be fair, he’s not a complete newbie to coaching. He has coached three years of high school football. HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL.
There are about a million reasons why bringing Saturday in is the wrong move. Number one on that list is that the Colts already had two former NFL head coaches on staff, along with another who had been a head coach in the CFL and a fourth who has been a head coach/coordinator in college. Whoever takes on the interim coach role is a placeholder, charged with stabilizing a team in chaos and attempting to salvage the season. How do you not take someone who has run practices, made roster decisions, called plays, and been in the midst of the frenzy of a game with grown men instead of kids who just got their drivers licenses?
Hell, if you want a tie back to the franchise’s glory days, Reggie Wayne is already the wide receivers coach. Give him the job.
The Colts are desperate but this seems way off every desperation chart I’ve ever seen.
Worse, it’s a sign that the entire franchise has lost its way. The Colts have been pretty steady for last 20+ years. That will happen when you have Peyton Manning and then Andrew Luck as your quarterbacks for the better part of two decades. But since Luck’s surprise retirement – which came because the team couldn’t protect his body or psyche – they’ve been searching. Often in the wrong places.
Ballard has been insistent that he wouldn’t chase a young quarterback and let him take his lumps to develop because the team was “close to winning” and out of a public fear that failure would cost him his job.
After five years of floundering, though, that is the only reasonable path to take. Scrap everything, start over, with the first step being finding that young quarterback they can build around. Yes, there are big risks involved in that process if you don’t luck into the right draft pick in the right year. That strategy also comes with the opportunity to get out of this cycle of mediocrity the team has been in since Luck retired.
Which, if the franchise really understands that and is committed to it, might be the only justification for bringing Saturday in. He understands what the players are going through. He will respect them and their effort and do what he can to protect them. He’s not here to win the AFC South but to soothe egos and focus the ire of the media and fans away from the guys on the field. Then in January the team can start cleaning house, make new choices for leadership, and do whatever it takes to get the next long-term quarterback on the roster.
Based on how decisions have been made over the past year or so, Irsay doesn’t deserve that much credit and I don’t expect a return to rational, thoughtful, informed, intelligent decisions about the future of the franchise. Hiring Jeff Saturday might be the nadir; I’m not convinced that the Colts know how to begin the climb out of that hole.
That’s my casual way of mentioning that I did my annual mowing of the lawn yesterday. Each fall I have to borrow a mower from a relative or neighbor and make a run around the house to chop up the leaves and shorten the grass before winter hits. I timed it just right this year as today is the final warm day before a shock of early winter hits tomorrow. Spending nearly two hours to just do the half of the yard that is close to the house is also an annual reminder that every dollar we pay to have to mowed for us during the growing season is worth it. ↩