Colts Owner Defends Jeff Saturday’s Hire as Coach

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The Indianapolis Colts hired Jeff Saturday, a man who has never coached above the high school level, as interim head coach on Monday. The move stunned fans, the news media and executives of other teams.

Saturday, most recently an ESPN analyst, was a two-time All-Pro center for the Colts and the Green Bay Packers over a 14-year playing career. But as a coach, his only job has been as an assistant and then head coach at Hebron Christian Academy, a high school in Dacula, Ga. His record there was 20-16.

Saturday is reportedly the first head coach to be hired to the N.F.L. with no college or professional coaching experience since Norm Van Brocklin of the Minnesota Vikings in 1961. Van Brocklin, a Hall of Fame quarterback, coached the Vikings and Atlanta Falcons for 13 seasons, going 66-100-7 without a playoff appearance.

Saturday’s lack of experience was addressed at a news conference on Monday night. Colts owner Jim Irsay defended his choice. “I’m glad he hasn’t learned the fear that’s in this league, because it’s tough for all our coaches,” Irsay said. “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.”

Even Saturday, 47, was surprised by his hiring. “Shocked would be an understatement,” he said. “I asked Mr. Irsay, ‘tell me why I’m a candidate you would consider in any role.’”

Because Saturday, who is white, was tabbed as interim head coach, the hire did not appear to violate the Rooney Rule, which mandates that N.F.L. teams interview either nonwhite or female candidates for open head coaching and coordinator jobs.

At Monday’s news conference, Irsay promised the rule would be followed in the off-season when the search for a head coach would be subject to the Rooney Rule. But Irsay seemed to expect that Saturday would be hired.

“This is for eight games, hopefully more,” Irsay said.

Saturday’s hire comes as the league defends itself against a proposed class-action lawsuit brought by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores on behalf of Black coach and general manager candidates who he said have been discriminated against in hiring. In a filing made in February, Flores claimed that Black coaches have been subjected to sham interviews, denied opportunities to lead teams and given unequal terms and conditions of employment.

Two Black coaches, Ray Horton and Steve Wilks, now the Carolina Panthers interim head coach, joined Flores’s suit in April.

Responding to the suit, the N.F.L. said it “will defend against these claims, which are without merit.”

Saturday was tabbed over two white former N.F.L. head coaches currently on the Colts’ staff, Gus Bradley, the team’s defensive coordinator, and John Fox, a defensive assistant.

He replaced Frank Reich, who was fired as head coach early Tuesday after four seasons with the Colts. In that time, Indianapolis made the playoffs twice. The team finished with a 9-8 record last season, and lost its third straight game on Sunday.