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Jeff Saturday’s Hire Displays the NFL’s Ongoing Issue with Black Head Coaches

Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts.

In the weeks since the Indianapolis Colts appointed former ESPN analyst Jeff Saturday as their head coach, team leadership has continued to draw criticism for the hire.

Saturday previously had no coaching experience beyond the high school level, and his hiring is viewed as an insult to some. The National Football League (NFL) continues to grapple with a lack of diversity in its coaching ranks, while others question whether Saturday was the most qualified candidate for the position.

Saturday, who was hired as an interim coach to replace Frank Reich, earned six Pro Bowl nods and a Super Bowl championship in his 13 seasons playing for Indianapolis.

Reich, who was fired on Nov. 7 after a lackluster 3-5-1 start, held the head position for four and a half seasons with a 40-33-1 record. He had a constant carousel at quarterback, evidenced by five starting quarterbacks over that span. The Colts were expected to improve after signing veteran Matt Ryan in March but have underperformed. The organization fired Reich after its Nov. 6 loss to the New England Patriots.

Saturday’s hiring reignited an ongoing conversation about the NFL’s lack of African-American head coaches. There are currently only three in the league: Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers), Lovie Smith (Houston Texans) and Todd Bowles (Tampa Bay Buccaneers). NFL teams have a historically poor record in hiring Black head coaches. The Rooney Rule was implemented in 2003 to promote diversity in the hiring process, but the problem persists. Black athletes account for 58% of the players in the league, but just 9.4% of the head coaches are Black, according to The Washington Post.

Alois Clemons, a Howard sports administration professor, called Saturday’s hiring “a real kick in the teeth to a lot of guys who’ve been in the system.” But he said Saturday’s connections to the organization gave him an advantage.

“You have to respect the wishes of the person writing the checks,” Clemons said. “Irsay likes Jeff. If you’re gonna trust somebody with your most important asset, you’re gonna trust it with somebody you know.”

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Jordan Barrett, a senior journalism major, believes Saturday has been unfairly criticized.

“He just took a job that was offered to him, so the Colts are to blame,” Barrett said. “I also think it’s because it’s Jeff Saturday. I don’t think any heads would’ve turned if they would’ve gotten Peyton Manning.”

Despite outside critiques, the organization has shown faith in Saturday, who was appointed by Jim Irsay earlier this month. The Colts won their first game under Saturday against the Las Vegas Raiders on Nov. 13.

Reich’s dismissal left some players uncertain of the future. Center Ryan Kelly said, “losing someone in-season is a bit tougher to swallow.” Others have publicly backed Saturday, including tight end Kylen Granson.

“We were faced with a lot of adversity last week,” Granson said during a Nov. 14 press conference following the team’s recent win over the Raiders. “But we came together as a group and Jeff led the way. There was a lot of energy and juice at practice this week. So coming into the game, we felt great and ready to walk away with a road win.”

Copy edited by Nhandi Long-Shipman

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