BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS BY MIKE NOWAK/SAN DIEGO
Nature or nurture?
Intelligence or experience?
Upbringing or life lessons?
When it comes to Frank Reich, one can drop all the ‘or’s and simply insert ‘and’s in their stead. Those are the qualities that make Reich so imminently qualified to coach at a very high level.
They are the same qualities that the San Diego Chargers saw in the Lebanon native.
Two weeks ago, the Chargers named Reich their new offensive coordinator, replacing the departed Ken Whisenhunt. In so doing, the former Cedar Crest standout ascended to a coaching height that few – if any – Lebanon guys have ever reached before.
“Coaching has always been a dream of mine,” said Reich. during an exclusive interview with Lebanon Sports Buzz. “My dad was a coach. My brother is a coach. My mom was a coach. If you talked to people I played for they’d tell you what they told me, ‘you’ve got to be a coach.’ After 14 years of playing (in the NFL), I had an opportunity to do something a lot of people don’t do.
“When (head coach McCoy) Mike called me in and asked me to be the coordinator, I was thrilled,” Reich continued. “After working with (quarterback) Phillip Rivers this year, he’s such an outstanding person, outstanding player and outstanding leader. I felt like we connected.”
Reich spent this past season, his first with the Chargers, as the club’s quarterbacks coach. San Diego went 9-7 in 2013, finished third in the competitive AFC West and defeated Cincinnati in the conference’s wild card playoff round.
“I’ll have a significant role in calling plays,” said Reich of his new job. “But Mike (McCoy) has been a very successful coordinator himself. I’ll be ready to call them, but if he wants to put his two cents in, it’s his prerogative.
“During the season, the coordinator is basically facilitating the offensive staff, putting together game plans, getting players ready and calling the game,” added Reich. “With the rest of the offensive staff, it’s really a team effort, and everyone plays their role. It’s also about getting guys to to execute the game plan. We’re always trying to figure out how we can improve schematically.”
Before arriving in San Diego, Reich’s coaching road was a winding one filled with bumps of all sizes. He had been fired at his last two coaching stops, as the wide receivers’ coach at Arizona and Indianapolis.
It was Indianapolis, in 2008, which first gave Reich his coaching break, in the form of an internship.
“I’m not sure there’s a natural progression in the NFL,” said Reich, a graduate of the University of Maryland. “It’s a very unpredictable business. You just take it day-by-day and take nothing for granted. You just try to treat people the right way.
“You work hard, do the best you can and I’ve been very thankful to be around good people,” Reich continued. “It’s hard to get in, and when you get in you’ve got to do a good job. It’s a very tough business. You need thick skin. It’s a performance based business, but it’s such a team sport. You’ve got to take a little bit of the good, with a lot of the bad.”
After struggling a bit in 2012, Charger quarterback Rivers had a huge bounce back season this year. Reich has been widely credited with being at least partly responsible for that success.
“The strength of the offense is that we have good players,” said Reich. “We have a great quarterback and we have good chemistry. When we were having success, no one cared who got the credit. We came in and asked Phillip some things because he’s been a very successful quarterback. We wanted to make sure we kept what he liked best.
“The team struggled a little bit in 2012,” added Reich. “He’s been a top-notched quarterback for a lot of years. When you have some great years like he’s had, and then you have an average year, people see it as struggling.”
But there’s always room for improvement, even with good offense. And Reich has some ideas about how to take the Chargers to the next level.
“Statistically speaking, the offense was number one on third-down conversions, number one in length of drives and number one in time of possession,” said Reich. “Where we were a little below average was the red zone. We need to score touchdowns instead of field goals. Our kicker tied the Charger record for field goals in a season, and that’s not a good thing.
“There’s no question it’s a great situation to come into,” added Reich. “We have a good team, but we were third in our division. We have a long ways to go.”
Reich played in the NFL from 1985 to 1998, with four different franchises – the Detroit Lions, the New York Jets, the Carolina Panthers and of course the Buffalo Bills. Reich was in Buffalo during the Bills’ heydays, when they represented the AFC in the Super Bowl for four consecutive years.
While he lost direct contact with the NFL for a decade-long stretch, mainly because of family obligations, Reich never abandoned his dream of becoming a coach in the league.
“Did I want to coach? Yes,” said Reich. “But I wasn’t ready to coach. I wanted to be involved with my childrens’ lives. But I knew I had to make a move, because if you don’t ultimately you become irrelevant.”
OK, so there is no natural coaching progression in the NFL. But if there is a logical next step in Reich’s coaching career, there’s only more rung of the ladder left for him to climb.
“Right now, I’m just focused on being a good offensive coordinator, and winning, and doing the best job I can,” said Reich. “When you get into this business, you can’t be the guy looking for the next job. Everything has to go right. That’s the way I’ve always approached it. I just try to focus on the here and now.”
As a player, Reich is best known for engineering two of the greatest comebacks in the history of big-time football.
In November of 1984 at Orange Bowl Stadium, Reich brought his Maryland Terrapins back from a 31-0 halftime deficit for a 42-40 victory over the Miami Hurricanes. Then in an NFL playoff game in January of 1993, the Reich-led Buffalo Bills overcame a 35-3 deficit to defeat the Houston Oilers in overtime.
“I enjoy talking about it,” said Reich. “It’s about the team. They are great memories and a great way to remember team work. They were outstanding team accomplishments.”
During his time in the NFL, Reich has been surrounded by some of the most innovative and creative minds, offensive coordinators and quarterbacks of the modern era. But no one has had a greater influence on the person Reich has become, the coach that Reich is today, than his family.
“Without a question, it is my mom and dad,” said Reich. “Everyone else is a distant second. My mom and dad (Pat and Frank Reich, Sr.) had such a huge impact on how I go about my work. What I’ve been able to accomplish, it’s a reflection of the things instilled in me.
“But I’ve had great experiences at every level,” Reich continued. “I had great coaches everywhere I went. I never felt like I had a bad coach on any level.
“Being out on the West Coach, it gets a little bit harder to get back to Lebanon. I try to get back a couple of times a year to see my father and my in-laws. And when I do, I go hang out at Fairview golf course. That’s what I do. But I try to get back two, three, four times a year.”