This is where I need to come clean. Saturday is a friend of mine. I covered him from afar as a player, then worked with him at ESPN. We have golfed together, broken bread together, and talked as much about family and life as we have about football. I have long considered him an advocate in the fight for equality and meritocracy, but I do not anymore. Not in this case.
That does not mean I don’t root for his success, because I do. He’s one of the finest men I know. But he had a chance to walk the talk and did not, in this case.
Coaches always talk about making personal sacrifices for the greater good. Perhaps that means fewer touches or sharing reps. Do what is necessary for the team to succeed. Saturday could have made a real statement about the importance of equality and meritocracy by turning down Irsay’s offer.
Before you call me naïve, among other things, it has been done. Two years ago the Texans had a strong interest in hiring former quarterback Josh McCown as head coach. Like Saturday, he had no coaching experience beyond high school, but he was extremely close to the decision-makers. Instead of pursuing the opportunity, McCown told them they should consider others who had put in time for such a shot, even citing a minority coach he had worked with.
“My wife and I were praying about this, and I wanted a player to get a chance,” Saturday told me on Sunday. “I’ve seen the Boones of the world go straight from TV to being the manager of the Yankees. I’ve seen basketball guys go straight to the head coaching job and get opportunities. I have not seen that in the NFL, and I told my wife, ‘This does not just come around. It’s not something that’s just arbitrary.’ And I felt very passionate and convicted that, if I step up and I do a good job, and people can see the way that former players can lead a group of men …
“I don’t pretend to be the smartest coach on the staff; I pale in comparison, and I mix [sic] no words. But I do know how to lead men, whether that’s coaches, players or an organization. And I know a bunch of men who are just like me that I’ve lived with, I’ve broken bread with, I’ve played with and against. And I want us to have a chance. I want players to have a chance. I had no idea if (Irsay) was going to go with me, but I just told my wife that I felt the Lord leading me here. The other side for me personally is, I care about this organization. This isn’t just a job; this is the organization I lived in and my adult life was forged in. My wife and I have all our kids here. I told them the first day, it’s not just about players, it’s not just about coaches — although I love them and their families, and I understand the seat that they’re sitting in — but, bro, the equipment room, the media relations, the training room, I love them and care about them. I know I can help them and help this organization turn around and get the direct [sic] they need. Maybe I break through and different owners turn around and say, ‘Hey, maybe we give guys chances, and maybe it starts with people who have played for the organization.’ “
In theory that sounds good, but diverse candidates typically don’t have the type of personal relationships with NFL owners that Saturday has with Irsay. That said, I will continue to want nothing but success for Saturday, because he is a good man. And he is someone who can lead (yes, I know a lot more goes into being a successful head coach; but the first step is getting others to follow).
Listen to running back Jonathan Taylor, who ran for 147 yards and a score on 22 carries, when asked what Saturday brought to the team.
“He gave us passion,” he said. “Anytime he speaks to us, anytime he’s on the field, you can just feel the passion that he has, given the history that he has with this organization. It’s not about him getting a bunch of wins. It’s not about him being at the forefront. He just wants to see the men and women of the Indianapolis Colts succeed, the whole organization, whether it’s the kitchen staff giving us the correct food, or whether it’s the equipment staff making sure we’re ready to go.”