When it comes to unsophisticated yet smart quotes, the late, great John Madden may have been the best in the sports world to do it this side of Yogi Berra. One of the most memorable sports axioms attributed to him is: “Winning is the best deodorant.”
I’ve always found that to ring true. And yet, Colts’ interim head coach Jeff Saturday won in his debut on Sunday against the Raiders, but criticism for the hire continues to pour in.
On the one hand, some of the vitriol might be derived from the public’s general disapproval for the man who made the hire, Colts’ owner Jim Irsay. Irsay, after all, would be a top candidate for sleaziest owner in the NFL if it weren’t for a certain troll in Washington.
But it’s definitely not just that. There is genuine discontent in league circles and the media over the unconventional hire. For all the outrage and confusion over Saturday’s insertion on the Indianapolis staff, an outside observer might think he was the winner of a “Be a head coach” radio contest, and not a 13-year NFL pro.
Bill Cowher has been one of the most vocal critics of the move. With steam practically coming out of his ears during CBS’ pregame show last Sunday, he referred to it as both a “disgrace” and a “travesty.” Cowher said he spoke on “behalf of the coaching profession,” lamenting all of the assistants on Indianapolis’ staff who have been there from the first day of training camp and didn’t get the job.
It’s a bit ironic that Cowher, who landed that cushy analyst gig at CBS based on his coaching career, doesn’t seem to think that a two-time All-Pro offensive lineman has paid his dues.
There’s also the simple fact of the matter that this is professional football. It is a business. I have a lot of respect for the coaching profession. I think we can all appreciate the commitment and sacrifice that goes into it, and that there are a lot of men, including former players, who have invested a lot of time for the job opportunity that Saturday has seemingly jumped ahead of in line.
Anyone who is a fan of Taylor Swift these days will tell you: life isn’t always fair. Sometimes you do everything you’re supposed to do, and you still don’t get what you want.
The NFL is a results-based world. This isn’t like high school, or even college football, where coaches have to balance rewarding performance on the field with hard work off of it in order to incentivize commitment from the players.
The short list of those entrusted to run a professional football program is based on meritocracy, not seniority. Irsay seems to have reason to believe that Saturday is the best choice to lead his franchise. He didn’t think the other choices on the table were good enough.
Maybe Saturday is about to fall flat on his face. Only time will tell. That said, this kind of outside-the-box thinking is exactly what the Colts have been needing after settling on the “safe” option and trotting out past-their-prime retreads at quarterback since Andrew Luck’s unexpected retirement.
Let’s keep in mind that this hire is essentially on an eight-game trial basis. Irsay can go a more conventional route in the offseason if Saturday doesn’t look the part. Whether Irsay removes the “interim” tag from Saturday or not, fans shouldn’t be surprised to see this hiring method become a trend.
Let’s also keep in mind that Saturday is considered among the best of his generation at a position that requires extensive football knowledge. Even Cowher and other critics that truly know the game will all tell you, centers are often the smartest players on the field. It’s not an exaggeration to call them the “quarterback of the offensive line.” Quarterbacks get the glamorous jobs in the booth, but if you want a cerebral guy that will take a coaching job? Go find an offensive lineman.
Football, more than any other sport at the pro level, requires a coach to have an understanding of the “x’s and o’s.” That being said, all pro sports are becoming more about managing the egos of the “jimmies and joes.”
Who better to be able to do that than a former player that has already earned the respect of the locker room because he’s been there and done that, and at the highest possible level? No offense to most of the former players who are now among the coaching ranks, but most were not perennial Pro Bowlers and one of the best at their position during their generation.
Football is becoming more simplified from a coaching perspective. Don’t get that twisted. I didn’t say it wasn’t still complicated. It is, however, less so.
The league’s clear intention to shift towards a more pass-happy product removes a significant deal of the strategy and nuance from the game, and puts more emphasis on pure athleticism.
We’ve already seen this play out in the NBA. You either have a strong personality as a head coach, or the inmates run the asylum. There is no respect for the office they hold, only for what they’ve already done (and often even not in that case, as we just witnessed with the Nets’ treatment of Steve Nash). Saturday might just be that persona that can handle that transition that is coming in the NFL. Irsay may just be ahead of the game.