INDIANAPOLIS – It could have been interim head coach Reggie Wayne.
Could have been.
Owner Jim Irsay sent a shockwave across the NFL landscape last week when he followed the firing of Frank Reich with the hiring of Jeff Saturday on an interim basis. That caused a national furor because of Saturday’s thin coaching experience – three years at the high school level in Georgia.
As it turns out, Irsay had a willing successor – and franchise icon – already on his Indianapolis Colts’ staff.
That would be Wayne, in his first season as a coach at any level.
Would the first-year receivers coach been receptive?
“Sh** yeah. Hell yeah,’’ Wayne said Thursday, which was his 44th birthday. “Of course, why wouldn’t I?
“That’s why when Jeff took it, I’m like, ‘He’s supposed to take it. You’re not supposed to turn it down.’’’
The overriding criticism: Saturday jumped the line. The long-time Colts center hadn’t paid his dues by working his way through the coaching ranks.
Wayne wasn’t buying that argument.
“Hey, that’s the way it goes,’’ he said. “Listen, everybody knows . . . if you’re in Walmart or somewhere shopping and there’s a long ass line and you know somebody up there (at the front) . . . TSA (agent) in the airport, ‘Hey, come up here.’
“I’m going to go up there. I’m going to (skip) this line. It’s about who you know, right?’’
Wayne didn’t feel disrespected that Irsay’s late-night call went to Saturday, not to him.
“Nah. I’ve got enough stuff to do,’’ he said. “I’m trying to figure out how to find me a cold winter jacket. I don’t have one, yet.
“I’ve got enough stuff on my plate. It’s (Irsay’s) team. He does what he wants. I respect that.’’
And Wayne respects his interim coach. They were teammates from 2001-2011, during the franchise’s golden decade.
During that time, Wayne witnessed Saturday’s ability to assert himself as a leader on a team replete with leaders: Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, Tarik Glenn, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, himself.
There never was a doubt Saturday was up for the job, even though it came in an unconventional manner.
“Surprised,’’ Wayne said of his initial reaction. “But rather Jeff than somebody else I didn’t know. But definitely surprised. I was happy for him.
“I knew Jeff would do a good job of leading. I knew that he would come in and know what to do and what to say. That aspect I was totally fine with.’’
Wayne’s main responsibility was bracing his receivers room for what was to come, and not reflect his disappointment following Reich’s dismissal.
“It sucks that all of the stuff happened and transpired,’’ he said. “I can’t just sit up there and sulk in it. I’ve got a room that’s counting on me to get them prepared and ready to go.
“You’ve got all the different emotions, but you’ve just gotta play. I’ve got these guys counting on me to get them right, stay locked in. I can’t go in the room with my head down. Your room is going to pick up on your traits. You go in there trippin’, they’re gonna trip.’’
Wayne’s relationship with Reich is tight and can be traced to the mid-2000s when Wayne was the emerging wideout and Reich an offensive assistant. When Reich was named head coach in 2018, he frequently attempted to lure Wayne out of retirement and be a part of his staff.
Wayne finally relented in March. It was a relatively uneventful first season as an NFL assistant, until recently. The tremors intensified last week with Reich’s firing and Saturday’s hiring.
“Go before that,’’ Wayne said. “Change quarterback, all that.’’
All that included the firing of offensive coordinator Marcus Brady, and the quarterback carousel that went from Ryan to Sam Ehlinger and back to Ryan.
It was mentioned Wayne didn’t experience this level of disruption during his 14-year career as a player.
“That’s what I tell everybody,’’ he said. “Everybody’s like, ‘How’s your first year coaching?’ Sh**, I can write a book, you know? Seems like as soon as you get comfortable, something changes.
“It goes to show you you’ve got to be ready for whatever at all times.’’
Wayne paused, then continued.
“I do tell you, if I thought this was going to happen and Frank was to call me in the summer . . . ‘Nah, I ain’t doing it,’’’ he said.
Does Wayne believe Saturday has what it takes to transition from ESPN analyst and be a long-term head coach? He’s the interim coach for the remainder of the season, then would have to go through the interview process in the offseason.
The Colts responded immediately to Saturday’s addition and influence – as well as the return of Ryan as starting quarterback – by posting a 25-20 win at Las Vegas on Sunday.
“I guess we’re going to find out, right?’’ Wayne said. “I’m trying to figure out if I’m a long-term receivers coach. I ain’t figured that out, yet. You just keep trying.
“The Jeff I know likes to be at home. Maybe that’s changed, maybe it hasn’t. We just keep going and see what happens when all the chips are on the table.’’
Milanovich declined offer
Parks Frazier was the first-time playcaller when the Colts went on the road and won against the Raiders. That was added to his role as pass game specialist/assistant quarterbacks coach.
He wasn’t Saturday’s first choice.
Quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich was offered the job, but declined.
“Yeah, Jeff and I spoke about it,’’ he said Thursday. “We talked about it, I talked with my family. Ultimately it just wasn’t the right situation for me at the time, and for the team.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.