INDIANAPOLIS – Jeff Saturday had a clear vision for where he would take the Indianapolis Colts on a full-time basis, and undoubtedly shared that during his formal interview.
The team announced Thursday it had completed its interview with the long-time franchise icon.
Saturday, 47, is the latest candidate to be considered for the head coaching vacancy created when the Colts fired Frank Reich Nov. 7 after a 3-5-1 start. And he’s the one with the most intimate knowledge of the situation he would be inheriting.
When owner Jim Irsay dismissed Reich following the 26-3 loss at New England Nov. 6, he convinced Saturday to step away from his job as an ESPN analyst and return to the Colts as their interim head coach. It didn’t matter that Saturday had no coaching experience at the college or professional level.
Irsay described it as an “intuitive’’ decision. He praised Saturday’s leadership qualities.
“He understands this league and this business,’’ Irsay said.
None of that mattered.
The Colts won their first game with Saturday in charge – 25-20 against the Raiders in Las Vegas – but would lose the final seven games of a season for the first time since their inaugural season in 1953. They finished 4-12-1.
In his closing press conference, Saturday insisted his unproductive two months as the interim head coach hadn’t diminished his desire to seek the job on a permanent basis.
“Listen, I have a very clear vision of how I can turn this football team around,’’ he said. “I have a plan of attack, what I understand this is what I believe has to happen for us to turn a corner. I’m not one that wavers. I’m not one that gets disjointed very quickly.’’
Saturday insisted there would be “significant change.’’
“The way I do things is not the way things necessarily have been done,’’ he said. “I have my own way.’’
General manager Chris Ballard is spearheading the initial phase of the head coaching search. He praised Saturday for his football intelligence and leadership ability.
“Those things are real,’’ Ballard said at the end of the season. “Now we need to find out (Saturday’s vision) . . . you can’t do wholesale changes when you come in week 8. That stuff starts in April.
“Your vision and everything you want to do, that’s built over time and over the years. It’ll be interesting to hear. He’ll go through the process like everyone else.’’
An interesting twist to the situation is Ballard wasn’t in favor of firing Reich and replacing him with Saturday.
“I voiced my concerns, which were, ‘Look, this is unprecedented, and we’re putting him into a really tough situation here, taking a team over in midseason,’’’ Ballard said last month. “It’s going to be tough, and I wanted to make sure he understood that, and I had the same talk with Jeff.’’
After debuting with the emotional win over the Raiders, the Colts pushed the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers into the fourth quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium before yielding late drives and losing 17-16 and 24-17, respectively.
Then, the wheels fell off.
After the close encounters with the Eagles and Steelers, the Colts endured historic losses at Dallas (54-19; giving up 33 points in the fourth quarter) and at Minnesota (the largest collapse in NFL history; losing 39-36 in overtime after leading 33-0 at the half).
In their final two games, the Colts were overwhelmed on the road against the New York Giants (38-10) and beaten in the final seconds at home by Houston (32-31).
Ballard insisted Saturday’s two-month stint with the Colts wouldn’t give him an edge in the head coaching search.
“His leg up is that he knows the internal workings, and he’s been able to see the inside of what he wants to fix,’’ he said. “But we will have a process that will be equal for everybody.’’
Saturday is the eighth candidate to interview for the position. He joins Bubba Ventrone, the Colts’ special teams coordinator; Denver defensive coordinator Ejior Evero; Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy; Philadelphia offensive coordinator Shane Steichen; Los Angeles Rams’ defensive coordinator Raheem Morris; and Lions’ offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.
Johnson has withdrawn his name for consideration and will remain with the Lions.
The Colts also have sought permission to interview offensive coordinator Mike Kafka and Don “Wink’’ Martindale of the New York Giants; San Francisco defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans and Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. NFL Network’s Tom Peliserro reported that the team as also requested an interview with Cincinnati offensive coordinator Brian Callahan.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.