On Sunday, Jeff Saturday surprised a lot of people by leading the Indianapolis Colts to victory over the Las Vegas Raiders in his first game as interim head coach. Given the way that Saturday, who jumped from ESPN analyst to Colts head coach, was vilified in many corners of the sports media, it must have been pretty satisfying.
And if you read Jim Irsay’s tweets, it was.
Monday, former Colts punter Pat McAfee dedicated a segment of The Pat McAfee Show to bring down the thunder on Saturday’s critics in the media. Namely, he went hard on NFL Network’s Joe Thomas, who called the hire “one of the most disrespectful things I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” and CBS’s Bill Cowher, who called it “a disgrace to the coaching profession.”
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) November 14, 2022
“It’s been difficult not to just kinda just diving into the hypocrisy of the fucking losers on television who felt the need to be puppets, ‘Oh, tell me what to say. Tell me how I should feel. You’re putting me on your television, I don’t have any actual thoughts of my own because if I did have thoughts of my own, it wouldn’t sound anything like I’m saying right now,’ started McAfee.
“For instance, Joe Thomas, one of those humans who we have a lot of respect for, a lot of respect for Joe Thomas on the football field, okay? Joe Thomas was a great left tackle… He gave a compelling argument about how disgraceful and disgusting it is, that not only that Jeff Saturday was hired as an interim head coach…not only him being hired but Jeff Saturday even accepting the job…’How did Jeff Saturday think that he was even ready for this type of position? What type of arrogance and ignorance and what type of piece of shit,’ that’s basically what Joe Thomas was saying. Once again, probably being a puppet being told to say these types of things… And that’s so funny because Joe Thomas was on our show…this is what Joe Thomas said when I asked him about the Cleveland Browns potentially needing an interim head coach just a couple years ago.”
McAfee’s show then cut to a clip from that interview with Thomas, in which the NFL Network analyst says he wants to be the next head coach of the Browns, though it’s unclear if its tongue in cheek or serious.
“I don’t think Joe Thomas is a bad guy. I think he’s a puppet,” continued McAfee. “I don’t think he’s a bad guy. I think he felt obligated to say something because somebody told him how disrespected they felt, as opposed to looking at it from a realistic point of view.
“When Jeff accepts this job, and there’s backlash and fire everywhere, and Bill Cowher goes on CBS. Bill Cowher who was hired at the age of 34 to become the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach…William Cowher did a lot of great things for Pittsburgh…he got hired at 34 in his hometown to be the head coach of the fucking Pittsburgh Steelers, so he maybe caught a bunch of fire when he was hired for not earning or deserving the job that he took. And he now wants to project that onto Jeff Saturday. He can take that up with himself.
“But Bill Cowher, shut the fuck up, dude. He said ‘well why didn’t John Fox get the job? Why didn’t Gus Bradley get the job?’ It’s their first year in the building and, to be honest, the team has stunk since they got there.”
McAfee goes on to explain that Jim Irsay might have looked around and decided he wanted Indianapolis’s version of “The Michigan Man,” someone who knew the organization because he’s been part of it for a long time.
“Joe Thomas, in that promo he cut from Germany while being a puppet for people, said ‘Oh, he’s hiring his drinking buddy,’ so he’s taking a shot at Jim Irsay and his state of mind,” said McAfee. “Kyle Brandt called anybody that questions his words of Jeff Saturday’s hiring are ‘internet booger-eaters.’
“Jeff Saturday, former player, gets a head coaching opportunity. Jeff Saturday gets an entire group to buy in. Jeff Saturday could potentially be the next blueprint for what teams might do when hiring former players… I believe that this will help with the minority coaching percentages in the NFL if former players are able to get fast-tracked to more important positions as opposed to having to wait around and do bullshit that you’re supposed to do whenever you’re 22, 23, 24, or 25 years old. Instead, they’re in their 30s because they had a very prolific NFL football career. Jeff Saturday couldn’t have gotten hired at 34 to be the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts cause Jeff Saturday was playing for the Indianapolis Colts. Bill Cowher got hired as a head coach at the age of 34, Jeff couldn’t have done that because he was fucking trying to win for the Indianapolis Colts.
“I just think the backlash was absurd. I think the win was huge… I just think it was a great day to be Jeff Saturday. And I think it was a great day to remind these people that get on television and just echo sentiments that they’re told to say, like parrots and puppets… Congrats to Jeff and fuck off to all you parrots and puppets on TV.”
A couple of things.
1. We should all just take a step back and say that the criticism of Saturday’s potential from an X’s and O’s standpoint before Sunday got a little out of hand. We should absolutely give Saturday credit for coaching an NFL team to victory in his very first game, it’s a pretty awesome feat. But we can also fairly admit that it was Las Vegas Raiders he was coaching against, and perhaps we shouldn’t go hog-wild just yet until we see what he can do against a pissed-off 8-1 Philadelphia Eagles team. Many a freezing cold take was born out of opinions based on one game, let alone a game coaching against Josh McDaniels.
2. Okay, let’s talk about race. It certainly doesn’t go unnoticed that McAfee doesn’t call out any of the Black media members by name who criticized the hiring for circumventing the spirit of the Rooney Rule. He goes hard on Thomas and Cowher but doesn’t mention Ryan Clark, whose critique of the Colts and Irsay is arguably way more damning than anything those two other guys said, especially since was Saturday’s colleague the day before.
I believe in Jeff Saturday’s intelligence & character; not his hiring. There are so many layers to this. Is it about Privilege, race, nepotism, relationship , or respect?
In the end the comfort & familiarity of friendship overwhelmed Irsay… & could overwhelm the locker room. pic.twitter.com/1KVHUTTcLI
— Ryan Clark (@Realrclark25) November 8, 2022
McAfee only briefly touches on the racial issues surrounding the criticism of Saturday’s hire. The notion he presents, that Saturday’s hiring could be a stepping stone for Black players to move into the coaching ranks faster, is one of those things that sounds good on paper but falls apart as soon as you look around the NFL.
The problem, as many Black NFL coaches have pointed out, is not that former players don’t get a chance to work into the coaching ranks. It’s that the predominantly white team owners don’t elevate them or, when they do, they fire them way faster than their white counterparts. The Washington Post recently broke down all of the ways NFL owners fail Black coaches, and it merely starts with their indifference to the Rooney Rule.
‘I get frustrated when I hear about the ‘pipeline,’” former Colts head coach Tony Dungy said. “‘We’ve got to do this, we’ve got to do that to get more people in the pipeline.’ The pipeline is full of people. We’ve just got to get ownership to notice and to see some of these guys and get that to become the trend.”
LaDainian Tomlinson, who now worked with the Los Angeles Chargers, echoes that sentiment about ownership, especially in this instance. Whether or not Irsay and Saturday were “drinking buddies,” they were buddies first and foremost.
“I really think there’s a disconnect [between] the owners and the kind of culture that is Black folks — not understanding the way Black folks communicate, the mannerisms, the expressions. It’s different than someone who looks like them,” said Tomlinson. “We hear owners say all the time, ‘Oh, I connected with this [White] candidate because they reminded me of myself.’ If we can’t get past that [mindset with] coaches who don’t look like you or talk like you or come from the same background, they’ll never get a chance.”
It’s not coincidental that this unorthodox coaching hire involves a white owner and a white former player. When the Houston Texans almost hired unproven Josh McCown instead of elevating Lovie Smith this offseason, it’s not a coincidence that McCown and the Texans executive he was friends with were both white dudes.
It’s easy to take Thomas and Cowher to task for their comments, but this is the real meat of the Saturday criticism. Even if he wins games, that doesn’t “prove” the criticism was wrong. And the notion that this hiring will do anything to benefit Black players who want to jump into coaching seems naive at best. Those former players are already in the ranks, they just got leapfrogged.
3. As far as the Joe Thomas critique, it’s a bit unclear in the clip whether or not he was being serious about wanting to be the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns. The clip also cuts immediately at the point where that kind of context might be made clear. When asked about becoming a coach in August, Thomas told the Akron Beacon-Journal that “if you want to be a coach in college or the NFL, you have to basically say, ‘All the things that I love in life, I’m just going to give up on. Family, friends, hunting, fishing, going to nice dinners — you can’t do any of that stuff, and I kind of like that stuff.”
4. McAfee’s “puppet” defense is pretty confusing. It’s unclear who Thomas and other media critics are supposed to be puppets of. Other NFL team owners? “The Media”? The NFL head coaches union?
Of the many strong opinions that media members gave about Saturday last week, they all seemed to check out against each particular person’s reputation and background. The takes were hot but they weren’t out of character. When I imagine what Bill Cowher thought when he heard Jeff Saturday got hired aligns with what he said on Sunday.
If anything, if we’re being entirely honest, McAfee’s stated reasoning for why Saturday should have gotten the job, that he “knows the building,” felt way more like a pro wrestling promo meant to get someone over than anything media members said this week.
5. On the notion that Cowher caught flack for coaching the Steelers at 34, and he’s holding onto that feeling now, that just feels like a reach. He’d been an assistant in the league for seven years before he got the job. He was replacing a legend in Chuck Noll, so there was undoubtedly pressure that came with that, but Cowher won 11 games his first season and had Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl within four years so he seemed fine.
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) November 14, 2022
Pat is obviously fired up and he’s clearly got some skin in this game as a member of the Indianapolis Colts family. McAfee is a loyal guy to his people. And credit is due to Saturday and the Colts for proving that coaching experience ain’t everything, at least against the Raiders.
But if we’re going to have a conversation about why many in the media criticized the hire, that needs to be a complete conversation, ugly warts and all. The NFL certainly doesn’t want to be part of the equation, so if we’re concerned about puppets and parrots, we should be concerned about the loud voices that don’t want to talk about that aspect of it.