Colts' Jim Irsay defends Jeff Saturday hire: 'Fully capable'

INDIANAPOLIS -- Colts owner Jim Irsay on Monday night vigorously defended his stunning decision to hire former Indianapolis offensive lineman Jeff Saturday as his team's interim head coach, saying the first-time NFL coach is "fully experienced enough" and "fully capable."

Irsay fired coach Frank Reich on Monday morning following late-night deliberations with general manager Chris Ballard on Sunday. Then, shortly afterward, the team announced the hiring of Saturday, currently an ESPN analyst. It is Saturday's first coaching experience above the high school level.

Irsay spoke at length Monday night about the toughness Saturday displayed during 13 seasons with the Colts, with whom he made five Pro Bowls.

"Want to bet against this guy?" Irsay exclaimed. "Put your money down. [I'd] love to see it, because I know what he's about."

Irsay said the decision to fire Reich was difficult but attributed it to a sense of knowing it was time based on his long experience as a second-generation NFL owner.

"There's no rule book that tells you, 'Now you should make a change,'" Irsay said. "It's something from being in the league 52 years. It's intuitive."

Irsay said the intent is to move forward with Saturday for the final eight games of the regular season, after which the Colts are expected to conduct a formal coaching search. But Irsay made no attempt to hide his preference that things work out and Saturday earn the job on a permanent basis.

"This is for eight games, hopefully more," he said.

Irsay was pressed on whether the team will truly pursue an honest coaching search that fully complies with the Rooney Rule, which mandates that NFL teams interview at least two external minority candidates before moving forward with a head-coaching hire.

He responded adamantly, saying there would be a compliant search while also noting his hiring in 2002 of Tony Dungy, who went on to become the first Black head coach to win a Super Bowl, and his successor, Jim Caldwell, who is also Black.

As for the fate of Ballard, Irsay quickly dismissed any thoughts of parting with the sixth-year GM.

"There's no question about that," Irsay said. "Honestly, it's not really even in the consciousness of my mind. ... The guy's a winner, and he's been immensely successful."

Ballard revealed that the Colts tried in 2019 to hire Saturday as offensive line coach and approached him about a position earlier this year, too. Neither overture resulted in him joining the staff, but the franchise has had interest going back several years in Saturday, who has been a consultant for the Colts and is close to Irsay.

Saturday, who was undrafted, leaned into his past inexperience.

"Here's a great part about my career," he said. "I came in, nobody expects anything. I'm here. Nobody expects anything. Hopefully it'll go extremely well. But I have no preconceived notion that I'm gonna be some spectacular anything."

Saturday will coach his first game Sunday on the road against the Las Vegas Raiders. He said he had not yet decided who will be his offensive playcaller but was close to making a decision Monday evening. Sam Ehlinger will continue as the starting quarterback, Saturday said.