The Indianapolis Colts surprised everyone on Monday when they hired former player and current ESPN analyst Jeff Saturday as the team's interim head coach, replacing the fired Frank Reich.
That has resulted in some awkward situations for Saturday's former coworkers at ESPN, who, like the rest of the NFL world, have been talking about the unorthodox hire nonstop over the past two days.
On Tuesday, Ryan Clark offered perhaps the most honest assessment of the situation yet.
Clark walked a tightrope by complimenting Saturday but also explained why hiring someone has never previously coached at the college or NFL level has rankled so many around the league and could prove problematic in the Colts locker room.
"Congratulations Jeff," Clark said. "I wish you the best. I believe that you are a very capable human, because of your character and your personality, to be in that locker room. I also believe that you have the intelligence to do the job. Now let’s get to this. Many people are talking about race. This isn’t about the race of the coaches. There were guys like Gus Bradley, who were former head coaches, on that staff, or guys like Scotty Montgomery. So it’s not about their color. This is about relationship. And that does bring it to race for this reason. There isn’t the reputation, the faces like mine, the minority faces that can build the familiarity that Jeff Irsay has built with Jeff Saturday.
"Now let’s think about some of the bad things or the downsides to this. Jeff Saturday, how is he going to walk into Gus Bradley’s office and say 'you should call these plays?' Or how is he going to tell Scotty Montgomery the running back room should run like this when you haven’t been there, you haven’t been in that position to elevate? And if I'm a player, I’m going to think about this. You’re not with us. How are you with us? Were you here in the offseason? Were you here during training camp? Have you been here for the first nine weeks of the season? And so if you’re not with us, then you must be with (Irsay). How can I share with you what I’m going through? How can I tell you about the difficulties I’m facing as a player and not believe that you’re going to sit on Jim Irsay’s couch later on that night and pillow talk?"
Clark should be well-qualified to speak about how Saturday's hire will be received in the Colts locker room, having played 13 seasons as a safety in the NFL.
His ultimate point was not that Saturday is wrong to take the job or even that he can't succeed with the Colts, but that when NFL owners hire the coach they're most comfortable with instead of the one that's best qualified, it rarely ends well.
"When it does come to hiring the right coach, whether it be a black coach or a white coach, it’s always been about comfort, it’s always been about familiarity, and this is another time that somebody has jumped the line," Clark said. "It ain’t always nepotism, it ain’t always white privilege, sometimes it’s just the wrong decision.”