BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS COURTESY OF PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
The National Football League is a harsh, bottom line, results-oriented, unforgiving business. There are no ‘do-overs’, sorry-about-thats, or excuses – no matter if the things which occur are out of your realm of control or not.
‘Competitive’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. You either produce, or someone will be found who can.
But the NFL is the highest level of coaching football to which one can aspire. It is the profession through which Frank Reich has chosen to make a living.
Reich recently completed his ninth season as an assistant coach in the NFL, and his first as the offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles. While Reich and the Eagles enjoyed varying amounts of success on and off the field, the bottom line was that the 2016 season just wasn’t good enough.
“There’s no question,” said Reich, a Lebanon native and Cedar Crest graduate. “It’s a bottom-line business. At the end of the day, what matters is how many wins you get. The weight of it can’t be overstated. Everybody knows it.
“It’s about the bottom line,” Reich continued. “But we also had a rookie quarterback (Carson Wentz), who can be an elite quarterback in this league. But no one thought because we’ve got a rookie quarterback, we get a pass in the league. Our goal was to get as many wins as we can and get into the playoffs. And we didn’t get there.”
In 2016, the Eagles went 7-9 and finished fourth in an NFC East Division that produced two playoff teams – Dallas and the New York Giants. After starting the year 3-0 – including a 34-3, season-highlighting beat down of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia went 4-9 over the last three months of the campaign.
During one stretch in the middle of the season, the Eagles lost four straight games, by a combined margin of 112-64.
“We started out hot,” said Reich. “Some of it was we were playing well and some of it was we were playing teams which weren’t playing as well. That’s how this league is. You’ve got find ways to win more games than you lose. Seven-and-nine is not good enough. You’ve got to find ways to win enough games and get into the playoffs.”
Reich was hired as the Eagles’ offensive coordinator a year ago this month, days after Doug Pederson was tabbed to replace Chip Kelly as head coach. In April, Philadelphia traded up to take Wentz, a quarterback out of North Dakota State, as the second overall pick in the draft.
But before the season began, projected starting quarterback Sam Bradford was traded to Minnesota and Wentz was thrust into the starting role.
“Any time you install a new system, there’s going to be a transition period,” said Reich, 54. “Guys around the league are used to learning new systems. I thought our guys handled it well.”
In 2016, the Eagles averaged 22.9 points per game, which ranked 16th in the NFL. Philadelphia gained an average of 337.4 total yards an outing – 113.3 yards on the ground and 224.1 through the air – good enough for 22nd in the league overall.
“I think as an offense, there were a few bright spots,” said Reich, who did not call his own plays. “I thought we played well at the offensive line positions. Carson had a good year. I thought we ran the ball pretty well. We were good at protecting the quarterback. With turnovers, we were kind of in the middle of the pack. Passing the ball we showed flashes, but we need to get better.
“The areas we were happy with were running the football, and the pass protection was solid,” added Reich. “The biggest things we need to work on are making big plays in the passing game and being efficient in the red zone.”
Wentz, 6-5 and 237 pounds, finished the year as the 25th ranked quarterback in the NFL with a total overall rating of 55.3. Wentz, 24, completed 379 of his 607 passing attempts for 3782 yards, 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
“I think he’s a natural leader,” said Reich of Wentz. “I think as the season went on his skills as a natural leader came to the forefront more and more. He has a very high football IQ. He can process a lot of information quickly. He’s big and strong and athletic. He has good presence in the pocket.
“He’s got to work on being more accurate, which is something you always need to work on,” continued Reich. “You just want to continue to focus on making plays and being better in the red zone.”
Before coming to the Eagles, Reich spent the prior two seasons as the offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers. Reich began his NFL coaching career in 2008 with the Indianapolis Colts, and was the Arizona Cardinals’ wide receivers coach in 2012.
“I think in this business, unless you win it all, you’re going to be disappointed,” said Reich. “When you don’t win it all, you look back at the positives and where you could’ve done better. We didn’t get as many wins as we would’ve liked.”
Recently, the rumor mill linked Reich’s name to the head coach coaching vacancy in Buffalo created by the firing of Rex Ryan. When asked about it, Reich certainly didn’t go out of his way to confirm the rumor.
“There’s nothing I can really say,” said Reich. “There’s nothing to say. Whatever’s out there is out there. Right now, I’m just focused on doing the best job I possibly can for the Eagles.”