The NFL cannot allow Jim Irsay and the Indianapolis Colts to hire Jeff Saturday as their full-time head coach.
Roger Goodell and the league’s 31 other owners need to do whatever they have to do behind the scenes to put a stop to it before it goes down.
Irsay can tweet flexing bicep emojis all he wants when he completes an outside interview like he did when he announced Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy’s chat.
But no one will be fooled by the window dressing and optics if Saturday ultimately receives the in-house promotion from interim to head coach.
Multiple league sources connected to this year’s coaching cycle are concerned that Black and African-American head coaches again are only receiving some interviews to satisfy a quota or make a process appear more thorough.
Confidence is low that owners will hire minority candidates in this cycle.
The Houston Texans have fired two Black head coaches in two consecutive years as one-and-done.
Carolina Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks, a Black man, may not be hired as the full-time boss, even though the Panthers’ players have lobbied publicly for him following a second-half resurgence in the wake of Matt Rhule’s midseason firing.
The hottest candidates out of the gate include Lions OC Ben Johnson, Eagles coordinators Shane Steichen and Jonathan Gannon, former head coaches Sean Payton and Frank Reich, and Michigan head coach John Harbaugh.
All of those white men are worthy candidates. But remember: the league and its owners already are being sued for alleged racial discrimination in their hiring practices.
Brian Flores’ firing from Miami, and the resulting frustrating interview process that followed, was a flash point for highlighting a longstanding problem in NFL front offices and head coaching offices.
And while every owner and team technically can hire whomever it wants, the NFL can’t have a hiring cycle with Black or minority candidates shut out once the Panthers, Texans, Colts, Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals make their hires.
The NFL especially can’t have an owner like Irsay tabbing his white friend, former player and personal confidant with no prior college or NFL coaching experience for the Colts’ full-time job.
The Colts so far have interviewed their own special teams’ coordinator Bubba Ventrone, Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, Bieniemy, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and Johnson.
Still, regardless of how many other candidates Irsay interviews, if he hires Saturday, the process would have been a sham. And everyone would know it.
Saturday went 1-7 as interim coach after Reich got fired. GM Chris Ballard admitted recently in a press conference that he had cautioned Irsay against making the hire in the first place.
“I voiced my concerns, which were: ‘Look, this is unprecedented, and we’re putting him into a really tough situation here, taking a team over midseason,” Ballard said.
In fact, Ballard said no internal options on Reich’s existing staff were even considered for the post, confirming the premeditated nature of Irsay’s actions.
Nothing about Saturday’s coaching indicated he should get the full-time job — certainly nothing like Wilks going 6-6 in his 12 games to lift a 1-4 Panthers team to 7-10.
He seems like a nice guy, and none of this is personal. But Saturday also came off very poorly in his end-of-season press conference when he blamed others while lobbying for the job.
“The way I do things is not the way things necessarily have been done,” he said. “I have my own way … When I came in, I’m thrust into how things had been done for the past however many years. I’m appreciative of that, the work that they’ve done and the success that they’ve had. But it will look different.”
The reality is, if Irsay hires Saturday, all it would do is give the plaintiffs’ attorneys fresh validation of their claims of discriminatory hiring practices and the deck being stacked against Black and minority coaches.
The litigation bills would go back through the roof. And it would make the Colts a laughingstock – though surely the other AFC South teams in Jacksonville, Tennessee and Houston wouldn’t mind the hire at all.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Rams coach Sean McVay, 36, deliberated on whether he wanted to step away from the NFL but decided he will return for the 2023 season. It is no coincidence that we learned shortly after McVay made his decision that veteran QB Matthew Stafford is committing to return, as well.
McVay has received an interesting amount of public and media support for considering a break after his Super Bowl champion Rams fell off a cliff and went 5-12 largely due to injuries in 2022. He is well-known as a manic worker who has trouble turning his intensity off. It just didn’t seem right for one of the league’s best young coaches to suddenly step away when times got tough.
In fairness, McVay had endured a crisis of conscience after winning the Super Bowl a year ago, as well. Still,it’s a good thing for the Rams organization that he’s staying on and seeing this through. There are a lot of people counting on him.
Some league sources believed entering Wild Card weekend that three playoff coaches were in jeopardy of being fired with a first-round loss: the Chargers’ Brandon Staley, the Cowboys’ Mike McCarthy and the Bucs’ Todd Bowles. If Staley is fired, multiple league sources believe that Payton, the longtime Saints coach, would prefer that job over all others.
McCarthy and Bowles both having hot seats, meanwhile, adds even more intrigue to Tom Brady’s Monday night showdown with Dak Prescott and Dallas.
Recently-fired Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury bought a one-way ticket to Thailand and has told teams calling about offensive coordinator openings that he is not interested at this time, per FOX Sports. Flores received a head coaching interview to potentially take Kingsbury’s place.
Ravens QB Lamar Jackson took matters into his own hands this week and tweeted the specifics of the PCL grade 2 knee sprain that is keeping him sidelined for the playoffs’ first round at least. “There is still inflammation surrounding my knee, and my knee remains unstable,” he wrote.
Amid much speculation about Jackson’s motives for sitting out, in a contract year, with teammate Sammy Watkins second-guessing Jackson’s absence from the postseason in a Washington Post article, NFL Network reiterated that the Ravens consider Jackson their quarterback and intend to negotiate again on a new deal soon.
This year marks the first time ever that five first-year head coaches have made the playoffs in the same year: the Giants’ Brian Daboll, the Jaguars’ Doug Pederson, the Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell, the Dolphins’ Mike McDaniel and the Bucs’ Todd Bowles.
THEY SAID IT
“You lost me at steak.” — Daboll, when asked if he would turn his focus to Sunday’s game after he eats a Saturday night steak