INDIANAPOLIS – Lovie Smith called his final game as the Houston Texans coach in Sunday's season finale.
Whether Indianapolis Colts interim coach Jeff Saturday also will be out remains to be seen.
Just hours after the two closed out dismal seasons with a wild and intriguing fourth quarter that culminated with a 32-31 Texans' victory, Smith was fired. Saturday was awaiting his fate.
“I told those guys when I walked into the locker room the first time, and it has not changed, was to serve them the best I could,” Saturday said. “I feel for those guys. They’re the ones that lay it all on the line every week. And, again, we came up short, and that’s heartbreaking for me for them.”
The questions in Indianapolis are not about whether they’ll make a move.
Team owner Jim Irsay already tipped his hand when he fired the widely respected Frank Reich on Nov. 7 following three straight losses and a 3-5-1 start. Irsay hired Saturday — who made the unusual midseason switch from ESPN studio analyst to take over a team he hadn’t even been around.
Irsay has said he will consider Saturday in the hiring process, even though the results were not noticeably different.
Saturday won his coaching debut at Las Vegas then lost the final seven, four of them coming after blowing late leads including an embarrassing and historic collapse at Minnesota when the Vikings rallied from a 33-0 halftime deficit to win 39-36 in overtime.
Sunday’s finish, a 28-yard touchdown pass from Houston's Davis Mills to Jordan Akins with 50 seconds left and a subsequent 2-point conversion by the same combination, was equally difficult to stomach.
“Really kind of the story of our season, right, is that we play, give ourselves a shot, and unfortunately at the end we didn’t close it out,” Saturday said.
But Irsay also has promised to conduct a full coaching search that complies with the league’s Rooney Rule, mandating interviews for minority candidates, something he didn’t do and wasn’t required to do with a midseason change.
Saturday has repeatedly said he’d like to return to the team he played most of his career with, though he’s also acknowledged it’s been a different kind of challenge being in charge.
“I can assure you, losing as a coach is much more painful than losing as a player, just because you’re involved with all three phases,” Saturday said. “So it seems like you always go home with some kind of difficulty to get through with that part of the staff.”
Meanwhile, in Houston, it didn't take long for what many suspected would play out.
Smith was asked following his second win in three weeks whether he'd been assured he'd be back as the Texans coach next fall. Instead, the 64-year-old deferred saying he had not spoken with Cal McNair, the team's chairman and CEO about returning, though he anticipated being back.
Instead, McNair fired Smith following a 3-13-1 season, which ended with a win that cost the Texans the No. 1 overall draft pick. They'll now select No. 2, behind the Chicago Bears, who Smith coached previously.
"We understand what our win total is and that’s not enough," Smith said.
McNair concurred and now Saturday must wait anxiously to find out his fate, too.