INDIANAPOLIS — The Colts ended the season on a seven-game losing streak, with three of those losses coming by 17 points or more and the final defeat coming at the hands of the three-win Houston Texans.
But interim coach Jeff Saturday, who presided over that stretch, still feels he can make a compelling case to get the job permanently.
Saturday, hired midseason as interim coach after fifth-year coach Frank Reich was fired, it was clear he still wants to be considered for the job permanently. He also seemed to deflect criticism for the lack of results during his eight-game stint.
“When you say ‘eight-game audition’,” Saturday replied to a reporter’s question, “it was an eight-game audition with half an offensive staff [and] boundaries. It’s an eight-game audition with the hand you’re dealt, right? How do you deal with that? Hopefully, I’ve shown my leadership … I wish we were better than 1-7. Everybody in that locker room and everybody here, it makes all our jobs a lot easier if you win, right? Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. I’m not dissuaded by that.”
The reference to the Colts’ staff was an apparent mention of the team’s earlier dismissal of offensive coordinator Marcus Brady and the recent departure of tight ends coach Klayton Adams, who left to become Stanford’s offensive line coach. Additionally, Reich was the team’s offensive playcaller, a job that later fell to assistant quarterbacks coach Parks Frazier after Reich was fired.
Saturday said he already has potential staff members in mind if he were to get the job. He also said he would make significant changes in 2023 that he was not able to make this season that could have a positive impact.
“It’ll be a different direction and a different vision that I’m carrying through,” he said, “one that’s my own that I can go implement and move forward with.”
Though Saturday’s results in 2022 might seemingly put him at a major disadvantage for landing the job, Colts owner Jim Irsay has said on multiple occasions that Saturday is in contention. He recently told ESPN that Saturday was “an outstanding candidate.” Saturday’s close personal relationship with Irsay also cannot be discounted. The Colts have committed to conducting a full coaching search in the coming weeks, one that will be spearheaded, according to multiple sources, by general manager Chris Ballard.
When asked about the success of Carolina Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks, who went 6-6 and nearly won the NFC South, Saturday said his situation was different.
“I would tend to believe a guy coming in after nine weeks, walking into a room with a short offensive staff and a guy [Wilks] who’s walking in and been together for however long they’ve been together, should have a different level of success, right?” Saturday said.
Saturday does have some support in the locker room. All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard said, “I think when Jeff came in, he did a phenomenal job of true accountability, holding guys accountable. I love the way he leads. I love the way he brought this team together.”
Saturday saw the Colts at their lowest, their seven consecutive losses becoming the fifth-longest losing streak in the team’s Indianapolis era (dating to 1984). The team had a minus-87 point differential under Saturday (second worst in that stretch) and gave up the biggest come-from-behind victory in league history when the Minnesota Vikings rallied from 33 points down to beat them on Dec. 17.
How far away are the Colts from being competitive?
“Not nearly as far as y’all think,” Saturday said. “I’ve seen some articles here recently, so I can assure you [there have been] a lot of shots fired. I don’t think we’re nearly as far as you guys believe we are.”
Elsewhere, Colts quarterback Matt Ryan addressed his future, saying he has no immediate plans to retire. Ryan, who was benched by the Colts twice this season, is under contract through next season and is guaranteed at least $18 million. If the Colts keep him on the roster in 2023, Ryan will count more than $35 million on their salary cap.
The Colts, who have the fourth overall pick in the draft, are widely expected to select a quarterback in April, leaving Ryan in flux.