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Evaluation: Jeff Saturday hire ripples across stunned NFL


Sixteen years after a mic’d up Peyton Manning castigated his star center “Quit calling the (bleeping) plays!,” Jeff Saturday called all the fitting shots in his successful NFL head coaching debut on the Las Vegas Strip.

That included reinserting Matt Ryan because the Colts’ starting quarterback and elevating assistant QBs coach Parks Frazier to offensive play-caller after his shocking hire as Indy’s interim head coach following Jim Irsay’s firing of Frank Reich last week.

The Colts rallied past the Raiders 25-20 two weeks after Saturday, then an ESPN analyst, tweeted that the “Raiders look horrible.”

After all, two weeks ago no one, including Saturday, could have imagined he’d be making his NFL head coaching debut last weekend.

His sole coaching experience had come as head coach of Hebron Christian Academy, a school preparatory school in Georgia, from 2017-2020.

Cutting to the pinnacle of the coaching line with none college or pro coaching experience put Saturday within the crosshairs of criticism and dismay across the league.

Two of his harshest critics were former Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Joe Thomas and Hall of Fame coach Bill Cowher.

Thomas called Saturday’s hiring a disgrace to the league and its coaches, questioned why Saturday would accept the job in any respect and ripped Irsay for saying he was glad Saturday lacked NFL head coaching experience because he wouldn’t bring the same old baggage to the position in the case of crucial in-game decisions.

“Once you hire your drinking buddy to be the pinnacle coach of an NFL football team, it’s one of the disrespectful things I actually have ever seen in my entire life to the commitment, the life-style and the experience that it takes to be an NFL coach,” Thomas, a 10-time Pro Bowler, said Friday on “Good Morning Football.”

Thomas said being an NFL head coach isn’t “just something you possibly can show up for.”

“So the disrespect NFL coaches need to feel after they saw that this hire was made is higher than almost anything I can possibly remember within the NFL,” Thomas continued. “After which to defend the choice by saying, ‘I’m completely happy he doesn’t have experience?’”

That was just several steps too far for Thomas.

Cowher didn’t hold back, either.

“It’s a disgrace to the coaching occupation,” snarled Cowher on the CBS studio show Sunday where he also called out Saturday for spurning previous overtures from the Colts to function an assistant coach because he was working in TV.

Cowher complained that Irsay bypassed members of Reich’s staff who had been there all season, a few of whom even have head NFL coaching experience, and deserved the chance over Saturday.

Cowher also blasted Saturday’s suggestion at his introductory news conference that he’d be constructing his resume over the following two months to see if this whole coaching thing was something he’d prefer to keep doing.

“For an owner to rent a coach who has never been an assistant at the school or pro level and overseeing plenty of qualified candidates to construct a resume, it’s a disgrace to the coaching occupation,” Cowher argued. “With regard to how this played out, what happened in Indianapolis is a travesty.”

Saturday then went out and delivered one other shocker: a win in his head coaching debut, and when Irsay presented him with a game ball afterward, Saturday turned it right into a bonding moment along with his players, who probably must have been wearing nametags to go along with their surnames stitched across their backs.

“Everybody’s getting a game ball,” Saturday bellowed. “And my favorite thing about football: Victory Monday. We’ll see you all Wednesday.”

Back in Indianapolis, Saturday was basking within the congratulations he’d been receiving after taking so many barbs for taking the job.

“I felt conviction in regards to the opportunity,” Saturday said. “I knew I used to be going to take it for those reasons and I haven’t any qualms about what anybody says about their opinion. Great. In the event that they disagree with it, still love them. Not likely nervous about it. I’ve got other things I’ve got to deal with.”

Back in Las Vegas, Raiders coach Josh McDaniels, who famously backed out of the Colts gig a couple of years ago, resulting in Reich’s hire, fell to 2-7 with the loss, his sixth by one rating.

On Monday, Raiders owner Mark Davis said he’s standing by his beleaguered first-year coach who’s now gone 7-24 in his last 31 games, including 5-17 in Denver in 2009-10.

“I believe there’s a process that we’re going through, actually slower and more painful than anyone wants it to be,” McDaniels said.

Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett knows the sensation.

He’s 3-6 with five one-score losses and the opposite got here at Las Vegas in September, a 32-23 defeat that was a two-point game just before the 2-minute warning.

The Raiders go for the season sweep Sunday in Denver, where Hackett’s pairing with Russell Wilson has been much more of a fiasco than McDaniels’ union with Derek Carr.

Hackett, who also received a vote of confidence halfway through his first season, smiled when asked if he felt he’d be coaching for his job Sunday.

“I learned an extended time ago, you’re coaching in your job each day,” Hackett replied. “I mean, each day you are available in that constructing and also you compete and also you fight to be one of the best version of yourself and take a look at to get one of the best out of everybody around you. That’s just how that is.”

Whether you’re a first-time head coach, one who’s grateful for a second probability or one other who’s catching the third degree.


With contributions from AP Sports Author Michael Marot in Indianapolis.


Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter at https://twitter.com/arniestapleton


AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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