The Indianapolis Colts hired Jeff Saturday, a former NFL player with no professional coaching experience, over a bevy of more qualified Black NFL coaches.
When the Indianapolis Colts fired head coach Frank Reich, it wasn’t the most surprising termination. The Colts have been struggling all season, nauseated by a quarterback carousel that’s now landed on Sam Ehlinger, who failed mightily against the New England Patriots.
But what has been shocking is the interim head coach named to replace Reich: former Colts offensive lineman Jeff Saturday. Saturday known around the league for his professional NFL career as well as his decade-long gig as a sports analyst for ESPN.
Now, Saturday will be known for taking over the Colts mid-season, a move that many are questioning due to his incredulous lack of coaching experience.
That, coupled with the fact that the NFL has a long, ugly history with consistently sidelining Black coaches, is causing Jim Irsay’s decision to bring back a fan favorite to come under intense scrutiny.
Ian Rapoport brought up this talking point on NFL Network.
“It’s mind-boggling,” Rapoport said of the Colts’ decision to hire someone with only high school coaching experience. “If there’s frustration around the league from really qualified assistants, coordinators, especially those who are minorities, with this, certainly all of that is understandable.”
NFL analysts call out Colts for hiring Jeff Saturday over more experienced Black, minority head coaches
After the Carolina Panthers fired Matt Rhule and promoted Steve Wilks to become the team’s interim head coach, Washington Post’s Emily Giambalvo detailed “how NFL teams use Black coaches to clean up their messes.”
“An analysis of coaching data by The Washington Post shows that the biases entrenched in NFL decision-making also make it harder for Black coaches to capitalize on interim auditions,” Giambalvo wrote.
“The trend echoes a corporate America phenomenon known as the “glass cliff,” in which women and people of color are called on to lead in times of crisis.”
This disturbing trend that has been well-observed and well-documented across various corporate sectors, demonstrates that women and people of color are given rare opportunities in times of crisis. Then, when things don’t go well — for example, when Wilks coached the Arizona Cardinals and was fired after only one season, a common occurrence for Black NFL coaches who are unable to right a sinking franchise ship immediately — the interim leader is promptly blamed and fired.
For the Colts to hire someone who is entirely unqualified to coach an NFL team, especially when there are women and people of color who have been working for the same opportunity for decades, flies in the face of the excuses given when more qualified individuals are passed over for the job. Byron Leftwich and Jerod Mayo were interviewing for head coaching jobs last year. Jennifer King and Lori Locust have been lauded for their development of their respective position groups. There are so, so many other NFL coaches who have been diligently climbing the ladder, only to have a former Colt and current analyst win the job. Conveniently, the Rooney Rule doesn’t apply to interim head coaching hires.
FanSided’s Matt Verderame wrote about the shocking hire, highlighting a key Black candidate the Colts overlooked: Reggie Wayne.
“In a league with only six Black or biracial head coaches, the Colts handed the job to an unqualified white coach. And while Irsay can talk about Saturday being a legend in Indianapolis who fans will like, he could have hired Reggie Wayne if he wanted to take that course. Wayne is currently the receivers coach and had every bit the career Saturday did and then some.”
Not only do Black head coaches encounter less opportunity and increased scrutiny, and women are only very recently getting opportunities to coach in the NFL. But it also appears that the doors closed for minority groups are swung wide open to welcome a former player with no professional coaching experience.
Coming from the organization that paired Tony Dungy with Peyton Manning and won a Super Bowl with one of the most successful Black coaches in NFL history, it’s hard to see a move that NFL fans and analysts find disquieting. As one NFL fan put it, it’s “hilarious and sad at the same time.”
- Colts hiring Jeff Saturday over more qualified Black NFL coaches is a bad look for Indianapolis
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