Doyel: Who’s lying, who’s telling the truth and who even knows the truth with the Colts

Gregg Doyel
Indianapolis Star

INDIANAPOLIS – After what we’ve seen, anything seems possible now for the Indianapolis Colts. Nothing, and by that I mean not a damn thing, should be considered too weird. Because really, what’s weirder than benching a $52 million quarterback after seven games, then firing the offensive coordinator and head coach over the next two weeks?

What’s weirder than Jeff Saturday?

Going forward, anything and everything is on the table because Jim Irsay is running things at 56th Street, and he’s seen and done enough in his football life – from jockstrap washer at 16 to general manager at 25 to principal owner at 37, since his father died in 1997 – to think he can call the shots. He already has emasculated the general manager he once called the best GM prospect in 20 years, going over Chris Ballard’s head to promote Sam Ehlinger to quarterback and fire Frank Reich and handpick Saturday from an ESPN booth as interim coach.

With Irsay, whose connections and pockets are exceeded only by his imagination, anything is possible.

Anything, like this:

Jeff Saturday in a quiet moment on his first day of practice – his coaching debut four days away in Las Vegas – carrying his lunch in a Styrofoam takeout tray through a hallway on 56th Street. Someone asks Saturday how he’s doing.

“My head’s spinning,” Saturday says, big smile, eyes that shocking shade of ice blue.

This is where I introduce myself to Saturday, right there in the hallway, to explain a blunt question I’d just asked in a news conference– I don’t believe your hiring timeline, I’d told him – and soon we’re giggling. He’s a good dude, Jeff Saturday, so now I’m comfortable to ask the question everyone in the football world is wondering:

“Peyton Manning is coming back as GM,” I’m asking Saturday, completely serious, “isn’t he?”

Saturday doesn’t miss a beat.

“He would be awful,” Saturday says, and with that he’s walking down the hall with his lunch, toward whatever craziness comes next, pausing only to shout two more words as he disappears around a corner:

“Just kidding!”

Comedy, reality, who can tell the difference anymore?

Colts owner Jim Irsay smiles on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, during a press conference at the Colts headquarters in Indianapolis.

Does Jim Irsay know what he's done?

Everyone’s laughing at the Colts for hiring Saturday, including people who love the Colts and people who love Jeff Saturday. They’re not necessarily right, you understand. Half this country laughs at the libs. The other half laughs at the MAGA’s. Someone’s wrong. Maybe everyone’s wrong.

Are people wrong about Saturday, and the Colts? Time will tell, but for now it’s instructive to chronicle just how loud that laughter is, and where it’s coming from.

At his locker this week, shortly after saying the boldest thing any Colts player has said about their new interim coach – “trust has to be earned” – linebacker and team captain Zaire Franklin was grimacing as he explained how he’d heard about the hiring of Jeff Saturday:

“Found out the same most of you did,” Franklin was telling us reporters, referencing a mind-blowing tweet from NFL reporter Adam Schefter that landed at 12:45 p.m. Monday:

Breaking: Colts are naming their former six-time Pro-Bowl C and ESPN analyst Jeff Saturday as their interim head coach.

Adam Schefter works for ESPN, covering the NFL. Jeff Saturday was working for ESPN, analyzing the NFL. How did Schefter get the scoop? Well, he gets a lot of scoops, and I have no idea how he got this one. But read those first two sentences again and tell me what you think.

This week is crazy, right? We’re all wondering who’s been lying, who’s been telling the truth, and who even knows the truth. Like, Irsay seems to actually believe it was Reich’s decision to replace Ryan with Ehlinger, unaware of the pressure Reich must have felt as the offense was crumbling and the owner was fuming and constantly asking if Sam Ehlinger was ready.

Let’s say Reich made the decision to promote Ehlinger. But who planted the seed, then stood over it until it bloomed?

Does Irsay really not understand how it happened?

Tony Dungy's rebuke, Dan Orlovsky's request

“Everybody’s just killing us,” Zaire Franklin, a font of transparency in these muddy waters, was musing from this locker. “Just killing us.”

Tony Dungy, even.

He coached the Colts from 2002-08, led them to their only Super Bowl title since moving to Indianapolis. He seems to love Irsay, and Irsay definitely loves him. But Dungy went on The Dan Patrick Show this week to say that, while Irsay didn’t ask him to become interim coach, this would’ve been his response:

“There’s no way I can do this, especially if you’re going to tell me I can’t play the two quarterbacks (Matt Ryan, Nick Foles) that might give us a chance to win," Dungy told Patrick. "That baffled me, that statement that Sam Ehlinger is going to be our quarterback the rest of the season. How can you say that when you’ve never seen him play in an NFL game?”

Technically it was Frank Reich who made the statement on Oct. 24 about Ehlinger having the job the rest of the season, but Dungy understands how this works. He knows who planted the seed, then stood over it until it bloomed. Don’t get lost in the weeds here, OK? This is Jim Irsay’s garden.

Even knowing the result, that Jeff Saturday was getting his dream shot at coaching the Colts, Dungy says he would’ve advised Irsay: “Stay with Frank.” And Dungy coached Saturday.

Dungy also accused Irsay of benching Ryan for reasons that were financial, not competitive. Dungy said it without malice, but that’s the verb to use – accused – for such a loaded claim. The guaranteed money on Ryan’s contract for 2023 rises from $12 million to $29 million if he cannot play because of injury.

Dungy knows how the game is played. So do the NFL talking heads at ESPN, all of them clarifying how much they like Saturday before going in on the decision.

From Mike Wilbon on Pardon The Interruption: “I still can’t believe the Colts hired Jeff Saturday off the TV set.” Answered co-host Tony Kornheiser: “This must be a trend. I just got a call from the Lakers! They want me to play.”

From Scott Van Pelt on SportsCenter: “This whole process is playing out in real time, and it’s hard to believe that it’s really happening. But it is.”

From ESPN analyst Robert Griffin III, on Twitter: “Jeff was a BLAST to work with at ESPN, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a HEAD SCRATCHING-SLAP IN THE FACE TO EVERY COACH ON THAT STAFF type of decision. Stephen A. Smith will be coaching the Nets next.”

From Marcus Spears on an ESPN talk show: “I know Jeff Saturday. I love him … I hope Jeff sets it off, I hope he has success, I hope he can get some wins under his belt. But ultimately this is a bad look for the Indianapolis Colts, and this is a bad look for the NFL, and for Irsay to say, ‘I’m glad he don’t have no experience,’ what the hell is he talking about? I hate we had to go here, because we all should be applauding Jeff and be having a good time, but respectfully, this is a bad decision by the Indianapolis Colts and Irsay.”

Elsewhere on ESPN, rising star analyst Dan Orlovsky – who made five starts for the Colts at quarterback in 2011, with Saturday at center – wants a job on Saturday’s staff.

"I’ve made myself pretty clear to Jeff – I want to coach one day,” Orlovsky said this week, also on The Dan Patrick Show. “I’m very much so interested in it."

One ESPN announcer is now coaching the Colts and another is openly asking to join him as offensive coordinator. This is what happens when the owner starts calling the shots, deciding the depth chart and coaching staff. Now we watch these next eight games, and see what’s next.

My money’s on Peyton Manning as GM in 2023. Saturday didn’t mean it when he said Peyton “would be awful.”

Those were just words. And words don’t mean much these days at 7001 W. 56th Street.

Find IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or at

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