NFL: Nepotism Forbidden, yet Loitering
Ol’ buddy being hired as head coach for the Colts leaves many questioning the process
After losing 26-3 against the New England Patriots on Sunday, November 6, the Indianapolis Colts fired head coach Frank Reich. The Colts were 3-5-1 when coach Reich was fired from his position just 24 hours after their loss to New England. This comes after a constant influx at the quarterback position for the Colts, and an offence line that has struggled all season, especially when compared to seasons past.
Colts owner Jim Irsay and the Colts hired former centre Jeff Saturday as their interim head coach. His hire has come with controversy because of his lack of coaching experience. Saturday has only coached at the high school level and has no experience at the college or NFL level when it comes to coaching. His record at the high school level was 20-16 for the Hebron Christian Academy in Dacula, Georgia, and he stepped down as their head coach in 2020.
However, Saturday played for the Colts from 1999-2011, and was a two-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler while he was in Indianapolis. Saturday has also been a consultant for the Colts over the last few seasons and has worked at ESPN as an analyst since 2013. This coaching move has sent shockwaves through the NFL, as Saturday’s move is unprecedented in modern NFL. The Colts ended up passing on two experienced assistant coaches who have a combined coaching experience of 73 years. Many around the NFL community have felt that the move to hire Saturday was due to Irsay’s friendship with Saturday instead of basing the hire on the most qualified candidate.
In an article for the NFL by Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero, it’s reported that Irsay hired Saturday against the advice of his team’s top executives who tried to persuade Irsay into not going with Saturday as the Colts interim head coach. It has also been reported that the benching of quarterback Matt Ryan two weeks prior was also driven by Irsay. Irsay seems to be making power moves that many believe are coming from a place of passion, and sometimes impulse, instead of looking at the best candidate to make sure the Colts have more winning seasons.
Sources in the article also highlight that Saturday lacks natural leadership traits which have become more apparent since navigating this unprecedented situation. In being asked what led him to say yes to the job, Saturday said that he had prayed on it and that he was called to Indianapolis for a reason: to take the job. The hiring of Saturday has led many to question once again the fair and just hiring practices within the NFL.
At the beginning of 2022, the NFL’s lack of diverse coaches in head coaching positions was called into question regarding several NFL teams hiring White coaches. As of January 2022, there were 30 White head coaches out of 32 teams. According to the NFL’s Rooney Rule, teams are required to interview at least one ‘minority individual’ in order to provide the opportunity to diversify leadership within the NFL. The Rooney Rule was created in 2003 based on recommendations made by the league’s Workplace Diversity Committee.
Although the controversy surrounding the hiring of Saturday isn’t necessarily based on the Rooney Rule, it does beg the question if the Rooney Rule was implemented in this case. The hiring of Saturday for the Colts hasn’t been received well across the league, especially by former players and the media. Many experts express concern over the lack of experience that Saturday brings to the table since experience in the head coaching position at the NFL level is seen as being vital.
During a press conference, Irsay referenced Saturday’s lack of experience by saying that he’s “glad he doesn’t have any NFL experience. I’m glad he hasn’t learned the fear in this league. Because it’s tough for all our coaches. They’re afraid. They go to analytics. And it gets difficult. He doesn’t have all that. He doesn’t have that fear.”
Irsay seeking a coach with a lack of experience has left many NFL commentators and analysts confused, especially since most owners and teams seek coaches who have vast experience coaching at either the NFL or college levels. The rush to hire a coach without a thorough hiring process has left many uneasy since the relationship between Irsay and Saturday seems rather close, almost as if Irsay hired Saturday because he is friends with him.
NFL team owners are often billionaires who make their real money in other fields and see their NFL team as something they do on the side for fun, thereby increasing the possibility they hire individuals who the owner is either friends with or is friendly with. This means that expansive hiring practices such as the Rooney Rule may not even matter if the owner has already predetermined who they want in the role moving forward. These hiring processes and practices are not exclusive to the NFL, but exist in many workplaces around the globe.
On November 13, the Colts beat the Las Vegas Raiders 25-20 in Saturday’s first game as a head coach. Statistically, the game was pretty even. However, the Colts had a higher yard total at 415, while the Raiders only had 309 total yards. The Colts are currently sitting in second in the American Football Conference – Southern Division, just behind the Tennessee Titans. The Colts are currently in the hunt for a playoff spot while they sit in tenth in the AFC, as only seven teams in the AFC will actually make the playoffs. It will be interesting to see if Irsay’s new hire and the controversy surrounding it will pay off or be something that Irsay regrets moving forward.