The Colts' hiring of Jeff Saturday turned heads around the NFL community, to say the least.
Among the many critics of the unorthodox move was Browns legend and NFL Network analyst Joe Thomas, who famously dismissed Saturday as a "drinking buddy" of Colts owner Jim Irsay and called the hiring "one of the most disrespectful things" he'd ever seen in his time in professional football.
Saturday then exacted some small measure of revenge against his critics, beating the lowly Raiders in his first game as Colts head coach.
But despite Saturday's win, Thomas says he's standing by his initial criticism -- and is flattered that his strong take garnered so much national media attention.
"I feel quite honored that people care what the hell I have to say about any of this," Thomas said on 92.3 The Fan's The Ken Carman Show with Anthony Lima on Friday morning. "That's a big feather in my cap."
Thomas also maintained that he holds no personal animosity toward Saturday, and his analysis is rooted in the larger context of the often-controversial hiring process for NFL head coaches.
"It's a little tough to speak about, because I think by and large everybody that's known Jeff Saturday, worked with Jeff Saturday -- I played with him in the Pro Bowl and worked with him briefly at ESPN -- they loved the person. I haven't heard anybody say that they don't think he can lead men.
"But I think the conversation has fallen into two buckets. One, people that have played with Jeff, or that have coached Jeff or really personally liked Jeff, obviously they're on board, or there's people that maybe want a job with Jeff when he gets the long-term position as head coach with the Indianapolis Colts.
"And then there's everybody else that maybe holds the head-coaching profession in high regard, high esteem, and feels like there are certain experiences that you may need to have to be able to qualify to be a head coach. And I just happen to fall onto the side of things -- that I have a lot of respect for coaches, I have a lot of respect for the job and the dedication it takes to be a head coach. And I think for Jeff, had he taken a job like he'd been offered earlier in the year to be an assistant there and said, 'Yeah I want to be a coach,' I think the conversation is totally different, and people would be saying 'Hey, great for Jeff, we love Jeff, he's a great leader of men, and we think that he's got the chance to be a good head coach.' ... But the fact that he was sort of plucked and helicoptered in out of nowhere, I think that's where people were saying 'Wait a minute, this is pretty shocking here. It doesn't exactly pass the smell test.'"
Thomas then warned that the hiring of non-traditional candidates could open the flood gates for potential conflicts of interest, for example a scenario where an owner's preferred media personality skips the proverbial line -- and potentially populates their staff with coworkers. At ESPN, NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky has already thrown his hat in the ring to work beside Saturday in some capacity.
Thomas also reiterated that he has no interest in becoming a head coach himself, because of the demanding nature of the role.
"I've said every time I have a chance that I'm not interested in coaching because of the commitment," Thomas said, adding that he's never held any such discussions with the Browns, his former team.
"It boils down to two things for me. One, being a head coach is more than giving a good pregame speech. It's much more about managing all of your coaches on your coaching staff, it's managing the personalities in the locker room. It's more than just the decision to go for it on fourth down. It's how you're going to manage and coach the coaches within the game. It's the relationship that you have to have with the ownership, and being the liaison to the captains in the locker room. It's the scheme and being in charge of the scheme that happens on offense and defense, and understanding how those things mesh together. ... I feel it's a lot more difficult than people want to make it seem. It's no simple as just do you go for it on fourth down, and when do you take a timeout."