The last time, it was Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who took the Colts to the playoffs twice in four years, but was shown the door in November after a 3-5-1 start. This time it’s Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen. The Colts announced his hiring Tuesday morning.
The Colts interviewed more than a dozen people for the job, including Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Jeff Saturday, who served as the team’s interim coach for the last eight games of the season, and many of the league’s top offensive coordinators, including the Bengals’ Brian Callahan, the Giants’ Mike Kafka, the Chiefs’ Eric Bieniemy, and Steichen.
Quinn was their clear first choice but decided to stay in Dallas for another year. Saturday, a former Pro Bowl center for the Colts who was brought in as the interim head coach after Reich was fired even though he had zero coaching experience, initially was thought to be the team’s Plan B. But as they continued to conduct interviews with other potential candidates, including Steichen, it became clear that owner Jim Irsay had rethought the idea of giving the job full-time to Saturday.
Steichen, 37, has been the Eagles’ offensive coordinator for the last two years and handled the play-calling this season for one of the league’s most prolific – and versatile – offenses.
The Eagles finished third in scoring (28.1 points per game) and total offense (389.1 yards per game). They finished fifth in rushing (147.6 yards per game) and scored a franchise-record 32 rushing touchdowns in the regular season. They were third in red-zone touchdown percentage (68.6%) and fourth in third-down efficiency (46.0%). They also had the league’s fifth-fewest giveaways (19).
In just his second full season as the team’s starter, the 24-year-old Hurts jumped from 21st to fourth in passing, 15th to third in yards per attempt and 24th to 11th in completion percentage. His touchdowns-to-interceptions differential improved from plus-7 to plus-16.
Hurts, a dual-threat quarterback, also ran for 760 yards. He had 13 rushing touchdowns, tied for the second most in the league. He finished third in rushing first downs with 67, behind only the Raiders’ Josh Jacobs (93) and the Browns’ Nick Chubb (69).
Before he joined Nick Sirianni’s staff in Philadelphia, Steichen, a former quarterback at UNLV, spent six years with the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers. He was the Chargers’ offensive coordinator in 2020 when they drafted quarterback Justin Herbert.
Herbert was the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year that season. His 4,336 passing yards were the second most by a rookie in NFL history. He had 31 touchdown passes. So, two of the league’s top young quarterbacks have blossomed under Steichen.
“Shane’s success with Herbert and Hurts clearly is a big reason teams have been interested him,’’ said former NFL executive Joe Banner, who is an analyst with The 33rd Team. “A good question, though, is should it be. I only say that in the context of him being a head coach. Clearly, he’s proven an ability to develop young quarterbacks and be flexible in his own thinking. He developed two very different quarterbacks with two very different skill sets running two very different offenses.
“But the criteria for being a successful head coach goes beyond your expertise on one side of the ball. It’s nice to have it. But if the Colts hired him thinking he’s proven he can develop young quarterbacks and we’re about to draft a young quarterback, so let’s hire him. I think that’s a mistake.
“If they hired him feeling he can assist his quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator and can coach them up on coaching a young quarterback, that’s great. But they had better believe he’s a dynamic leader. He’d better have a compelling vision. He'd better be able to hire a dynamic staff and lead them. Or we will quickly forget that he’s good at developing young quarterbacks.’’
Steichen got his big coaching break in 2011 when he was hired by then Chargers head coach Norv Turner, whose son Scott was a college teammate and friend of Steichen’s. He spent two years on the Chargers’ defensive staff, which he has said helped him see the game through a different lens and recognize matchups.
When Turner was fired after the 2012 season, he went to Cleveland as the offensive coordinator and took Steichen with him, this time as an offensive assistant. When the entire Browns staff was fired after just one season, Steichen went back to the Chargers, first as an offensive quality control coach for two years, then as the team’s quarterbacks coach for three years, before replacing Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator.
“He’s going to be a great head coach,’’ said the Eagles’ Sirianni.
Steichen is taking over a Colts team that won just four games this season, has been to the playoffs just twice in the last eight years and doesn’t know who its quarterback is going to be in 2023.
After missing the playoffs in the final week of the season in 2021, the Colts traded away quarterback Carson Wentz and replaced him with 37-year-old veteran Matt Ryan, who they picked up in a trade with Atlanta. But the Colts’ offensive line struggled to protect the immobile Ryan. He was sacked 38 times in 12 games and was benched after the collapse against the Vikings. Ryan finished with the lowest touchdown percentage and highest interception percentage of his career.
Ryan isn’t expected to return, and Sam Ehlinger, a 2021 sixth-round pick who started three games last year, is basically a backup. They have the fourth overall pick in the draft and could use it on a quarterback. They’ve been linked to Kentucky’s Will Levis in early mock drafts.
The Colts have deficiencies on both sides of the ball. They were the second-lowest scoring offense in the league this season (17.0 points per game) and gave up the fourth most points (25.1).
“My view of the Colts is they’ve done a pretty good job with personnel, but they haven’t had the right priorities as far as team-building,’’ Banner said. “They need to shift their team-building philosophy a little bit.
“They need to put a much higher priority on their offensive and defensive lines. It’s not enough to have four good defensive linemen. You need six to eight. You need to have depth so you’re line is fresh in the fourth quarter and you still can get a rush with four people.
“And they’ve got to get the quarterback position fixed. Then, they’ll at least begin to look competitive and not be as far away from being a playoff contender as it looks at the moment.’’
Reich, who was hired by the Colts after the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017, was after his team got off to a disappointing 3-5-1 start this season. He was replaced by Saturday, a six-time Pro Bowl center with the Colts who was a part-time consultant for the team but had never coached before. The Colts won their first game after he was hired, then dropped their final seven.
The low point came in a pair of back-to-back December losses to the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings. Trailing by just two points to the Cowboys after three quarters, the Colts turned the ball over three times in the fourth quarter and gave up 33 unanswered points in a 54-19 loss. Against the Vikings, they blew a 33-point first-half lead in a 39-36 loss.
About Shane Steichen
- Years as OC: 3
- Record as OC: 30-20
- Eagles’ average offensive rank (yards) under Steichen: 14th
- 2022 Offense DVOA ranking: 3rd
Paul Domowitch covered the Eagles and the NFL for the Philadelphia Inquirer for four decades. You can follow him on Twitter at @pdomo.