No one knows how the Jeff Saturday experiment is going to go in Indianapolis. Even Saturday himself has admitted that much.
But Jim Irsay's decision to install an interim head coach with no experience coaching at the collegiate or professional level has rankled coaches and executives throughout the league -- particularly those of color.
Black coaches and executives around the league told CBS Sports they're exhausted by what they view as a continued problem with the league's diverse hiring practices. The league has regularly tweaked the Rooney Rule and created programs such as the Quarterback Summit and Accelerator Program meant to get up-and-coming coaches and personnel in front of decision-makers, yet the league has just five minority permanent coaches (including three Black men) and just saw an interim role go to an outside hire in a move unprecedented in the Super Bowl era.
"[Irsay] just said in front of the whole nation he got him because he doesn't have experience," one Black executive said. "These people have us chasing our tails for what they're looking for. With those programs, I'm done with all that shit. Pick somebody else."
Said another executive: "If I do [go] and if they ask me to participate, they are not going to like what I say."
When asked for his reaction to the Saturday hire, one Black coach texted CBS Sports the photo taken during the Accelerator Program of the dozens of qualified minority candidates in the pipeline.
In a phone interview Friday with CBS Sports, NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said he wasn't surprised by Irsay's decision to install Saturday as the interim head coach. Vincent noted Irsay's familiarity with Saturday, as well as the former Pro Bowl center's consultant work with the team and his years of winning on the field, as reasons for his understanding of the appointment.
"It's membership looking for answers and didn't believe the answers were internal. I'm removing race. I've been in a locker room before where coaches have been removed. And I understand the feelings that one may have. But at the end of the day when your club is completely underperforming from what the expectations were, you make the call that you think is best to get you through the season.
"And those individuals that may feel like that opportunity should have been presented to someone else potentially that's on the roster... I would say that. if it was John Fox, would we be having this conversation today? Probably not. If this were Gus Bradley, would we be having this conversation today? Probably not. But if it were a minority from outside of the organization, would we be having this conversation today? No. We wouldn't be."
Indeed, it's impossible few would have batted an eye if Irsay had installed a coach currently on the staff who had previous head coaching experience. That happens all the time, and it happened last month in Carolina when former Cardinals coach Steve Wilks took the interim role upon Matt Rhule's firing.
What makes the Saturday hiring unique is that he's the first person in the NFL since 1961 to become a head coach with no collegiate or professional coaching experience. Further, only two coaches since 1986 have been named interim as outside appointments. No person in the Super Bowl era has led a team with "high school" at the top of their coaching resume, and Saturday is only the third outside interim appointment in 35 years.
In a text, one NFL head coach said the appointment was "not fair to the profession."
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Rod Graves, executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said in statement earlier this week that if the spirit of the Rooney Rule "is to expand opportunities, we believe that it must be consistently applied, even in the hiring of interim positions."
The Colts did not break the Rooney Rule in appointing Saturday because it does not apply to interim positions.
"We do know that Rod does have concerns about this and that other people have brought it up," said Jonathan Beane, the NFL's chief diversity officer, in a call with CBS Sports. "This will be an issue that will be discussed by the DEI committee, as they always talk about any particular issue that they feel the need to be discussed deeper. With that, I'm certain that that discussion will occur. But as of right now the spirit of the rule was not violated in any way because when it pertains to interim positions, there is not the application of the Rooney Rule."
Beyond the race questions, the Colts may have done reputational damage that can last after Saturday's interim tenure is complete. Whether the Colts are filling just a head coaching spot or both the coach and general manager positions, Irsay is showing that he can act impetuously and with a heavy hand.
"I wish they realized they are watering down the attractiveness of that job which they will face in eight weeks when there are other openings," said one team executive.
Vincent and Beane both said their focus is on being well prepared once the hiring cycle gets underway toward the conclusion of the regular season. It's there that they hope the work they've put in at the league office will help NFL team owners make the most informed decisions where they also place a premium on valuing diversity.
"Right now it can almost become a distraction on what's really important," Vincent said before listing off more than a dozen qualified coaching candidates of all races. "And what's really important are these individuals should be ready for the clubs that are hiring. Right now we know there's two [openings.] This is in our control. What's in our control, what we can see, what's real?
"The Indianapolis Colts will be hiring a new coach with all of the guidelines, practices and policies in place as soon as their season concludes. And then the Carolina Panthers, same thing. Making sure that we're talking about these men right here that's both Black and white to try to create that equal playing field."