BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS COURTESY OF INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
It’s been a unique, spiritual and sometimes surreal journey for Frank Reich. One that originated in Lebanon and that now has landed him in Indianapolis – with stops in Maryland, Buffalo, Carolina, New York, Detroit, Indy, Arizona, San Diego and Philadelphia along the way.
Although he has now reached the pinnacle of his profession, in many ways the work has just begun. Because getting to the top might be easier than staying there.
The last ten days have been a whirlwind for Reich, now Lebanon’s favorite son.
On Sunday, he signed a five-year contract to be the Indianapolis Colts’ new head football coach. On Tuesday, he was introduced to that locale’s media as the man who will turn the Colts’ NFL fortunes around.
Reich, a graduate of Cedar Crest High School, was just a week removed from helping the Philadelphia Eagles win their first Super Bowl, as their offensive coordinator. A series of events that seemingly have all led up to this moment.
Reich is the only Lebanon County native to ever become the head coach of an NFL organization.
“I remember a quote from years ago, ‘Success is not a destination. It’s a means of travel,'” said Reich. “I think you’re right. We’ve hit a mark on the trail. But the journey’s not over. The joy is in the process. Getting here is not easy. That’s what’s fun about this position. I’ve always wanted to be a significant contributor to something special.
“It’s been an incredible time,” continued Reich. “You work so hard with a group of guys to climb a mountain, and then when you get there it’s a special feeling. It’s hard to put into words. Then to follow that up by getting back to my coaching roots, a city where we started my NFL coaching career, it’s just amazing. Even though Lebanon is my home, during the years we had here, we made some special relationships. Two of my daughters graduated from high school here.”
A detailed organizer, a great communicator and a mentor, not only does Reich have coaching in his blood, he is a product of his environment. His father Frank Reich, Sr. was a coach and a teacher, as was his mother, Pat.
“I have thought about that a lot,” said Reich. “Their sharing in the joy of this happening. Here’s why I love my parents as much as I do, their joy and excitement. But they would feel the same joy for my brother Joe or my sister Cindy when they reached their goals.
“I always believed and wanted to be an NFL head coach,” Reich added. “I grew up in a family of coaches. My dad was a football coach. My mom was a coach. My brother is a head coach. I love the camaraderie. I love the people. I love the competition.”
From Philadelphia this past season, Reich could see the peak.
After the Eagles went 7-9 in 2016, Reich’s first year as Eagles’ head coach Doug Pederson’s offensive coordinator, Philadelphia went 13-3 this season, and won three playoff games, with a back-up quarterback as an underdog. On February 4th in Minneapolis, Reich and the Eagles defeated the New England Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl LII.
“It was very special,” said Reich, 56. “What made it special was the players. It was a great group of men, a great coaching staff. It showed we were a team. We did it together. We believed in each other. It was just a special chemistry. We did all the things we set out to do.
“I want to acknowledge and thank the Philadelphia Eagles organization for allowing me to be part of a team and a journey that did something special,” Reich continued. “But today is a new chapter and I couldn’t be more excited. I really believe we’re going to work together to do something special for this city and for our organization, something that will be remembered for a long time. This is a great football city.”
During the recent playoffs, Indianapolis attempted to contact Reich about its head-coaching opening. But Reich had instructed his agent not to notify him of any expressed interest, instead choosing to focus on the preparation and game plan that ultimately produced an NFL title for the Eagles.
“It’s an incredible process,” said Reich. “A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go from winning the Super Bowl, something every person who puts on that helmet and who walks out on that field is working for. That’s what it’s all about – winning world championships. But I’ll tell you what else it’s all about, being with world-class organizations, and I feel like I stepped into that here. I couldn’t be more excited.
“I’m not going to change,” continued Reich. “I am who I am. That’s a fierce competitor. I want to win with class. I want to treat people with respect. I want to have humility and confidence at the same time. Some people think you can’t have those both together. I’m pretty comfortable in who I am and how I got here. I’m just ready to go to work.”
“I can’t be more proud of our new head coach, Frank Reich,” said Indianapolis General Manager Chris Ballard. “We wanted a leader, a guy who has a big-picture vision, who’s honest, smart, adaptable, can communicate, who’s a teacher and who’s a partner. I have no question we have found that with Frank.”
Before becoming Philadelphia’s offensive coordinator, Reich served in the same position for the San Diego Chargers for two seasons. After the 2015 season, Reich was unceremoniously terminated.
The NFL may be in the people business, but it is also a bottom-line business.
“It’s all about a part of the process,” said Reich. “There aren’t too many head coaches in the NFL who haven’t been fired or who haven’t faced adversity. I look at San Diego as I became a better coach. We did some great things there. We fell short of our goal, but we learned some things along the way.
“Obviously as a head coach, you’re overseeing the whole football operation and you’re involved in every decision,” Reich added. “It’s a great responsibility. But it’s still all about the people and the process. As a head coach, you have a bigger influence on the people and the process.”
Reich’s NFL coaching career actually began in Indianapolis in 2008, where he would later become a quarterbacks coach – at a time when Peyton Manning was taking snaps for the Colts – and a wide receivers’ coach. In 2012, Reich was the wide receivers coach for the Arizona Cardinals.
But if the foundation for Reich’s coaching career was laid by his parents, it was fostered during his playing days in Buffalo, from 1985 to 1994.
“In the football world, the two people who had the biggest influence on me were (Bills’ General Manager) Bill Polian and (Buffalo head coach) Marv Levy,” said Reich. “Marv was my coach for so many years. He was a man of class and integrity. He was really special and had a big influence on me. Bill has been like a football father to me. In 1985 he told me, ‘Play as many years as you can and then come coach with me’. Bill’s strong recommendation of me helped me get the job.
“It goes back to my rookie year and it goes back to my conversation with Bill Polian,” added Reich. “Naturally, coaching was in the Reich family. I always thought about that. Somewhere in the 1990s, The Sporting News did a poll about who would become a head coach some day. As I remember, there were a couple of guys mentioned and I was one of them. Since then, I’ve had a lot of guys confirm that. I think there’s an internal calling and an external calling. It can confirm what you’re feeling.”
After retiring as a player with the Detroit Lions in 1998, Reich spent a decade out of football. During that time, Reich focused on his growing family, his gift as a motivational speaker and his spiritual relationship with God.
“I believe every step of my journey has prepared me for this time right now,” said Reich. “I want to coach football and I want to win games. Character matters. Character matters a lot. Every detail matters. The way we win is just as important as why we win.”
By all accounts, Reich has hit the ground running in Indianapolis. There is much work to be done, and time is of the essence. Reich’s work ethic and attention to detail will be put to the test.
“The relationship between a head coach and a general manager is critically important in any NFL organization,” said Reich. “It became very apparent really early on that Chris and I shared a very common philosophy and vision for this team and organization. It really began with the idea that every person matters, and that every detail matters in building a championship culture. We will make this city proud. We’ll do it one person at a time, one detail at a time, one player at a time and one game at a time.
“Priority One is hiring a staff,” Reich added. “I feel comfortable we’ll put together a great staff. Priority Two is evaluating the roster. Priority Three is free agents and college players. I think the whole key is you build it player-by-player. One or two or three players can make a big difference, and it can go faster than people think.”
Through his personal collaboration with Pederson – himself a former back-up quarterback – Reich was a huge part of the Eagles’ game planning and offensive schemes, albeit behind the scenes. On game day, Pederson was credited with Philadelphia’s aggressive play calling, a role that Reich will now assume with the Colts.
“I will call the plays,” said Reich. “You can’t even imagine the collaboration that goes into preparing the call sheets, preparing the first 15 plays. It comes down to there’s got to be one voice, and I will be that voice.
“It’s (collaboration) a huge part,” Reich continued. “That starts with the general manager and the head coach. There’s nothing better than collaboration. Collaboration doesn’t mean that there’s no leadership. It doesn’t mean that there’s no voice. It doesn’t mean there’s not a clear conviction on where we’re going. Collaboration means there’s respect in the room, there’s talent in the room. Our job as leaders is to get the most talented staff and draw all of that out of them. To draw the best ideas. That’s what I always believed. That’s what we did in Philadelphia. That’s what we will do here.”
Indianapolis is coming off a 4-12 campaign. The Colts will pick third overall in April’s NFL draft.
“As the head coach, the vision is simple and it’s clear,” said Reich. “Every time we step on the field to compete, there will be four marks that will mark our team. We will be the toughest, both mentally and physically. There will be a relentless pursuit to get better everyday. And an obsession with finishing strong. Growing up in my household, my father used to tell me all the time, ‘Frank, it’s not a question of who’s the toughest. It’s a question of who’s the toughest the longest’. We will have a tough football team.
“We will be the most disciplined team,” continued Reich. “We will have the structure, we will have the system and we will have the processes that cultivate discipline. There’s a quote I’ve had on my desk for years and it says, ‘The sweat of discipline and the hard work of repetition always precedes the thrill of spontaneity, in every pursuit of life’. Discipline is going to be the foundation that creates a lot of joy out on that field, in this city and every time we wear the horseshoe. We will wear it with a lot of joy and a lot of pride in our hearts. And it’s going to be fun to be a part of that.”
During his career, Reich has worked with and helped mold some of the NFL’s most dynamic quarterbacks, from Manning to Philip Rivers to Carson Wentz to Nick Foles. Indianapolis franchise quarterback Andrew Luck did not take a snap in 2017 due to a lingering shoulder injury.
“We’re going to be the most prepared team,” said Reich. “The second quote that has been on my desk is, ‘No man suddenly becomes different from his habits and cherished thoughts.’ What we’re going to be a part of as an organization and a football team is creating and cultivating championship habits and championship thoughts.
“And we’re going to be the most united team,” Reich added. “We’re going to be a close team. It’s going to be built around trust, respect and love – a love for the game. We want players that have a love for the game of football, that love to come to work every day, and players that love each other. And players that have a vision to realize it’s bigger than them, that it’s about this city of Indianapolis. There will be a love that is so contagious that it would bring a closeness that will produce a championship culture that we all want. When we have a championship culture it’s going to result in many victories.”
Frank Reich’s Career Accomplishments
|Born:||December 4, 1961 (age 56)
Freeport, New York
|Height:||6 ft 4 in (1.93 m)|
|Weight:||210 lb (95 kg)|
|High school:||Lebanon (PA) Cedar Crest|
|NFL Draft:||1985 / Round: 3 / Pick: 57|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career NFL statistics|