BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS COUTESY OF ED COTTINGHAM, WINGATE UNIVERSITY
Can coaching/teaching literally get in one’s blood? Nah, it’s ‘learned behavior’.
Joe Reich hails from a teaching/coaching family. Growing up around the profession, not only was it ingrained in his personality, Reich became a product of his environment.
Reich’s parents, Frank Reich, Sr. and Pat Reich were respected coaching and teaching mainstays in Lebanon County for decades. And in many ways, Joe’s older brother Frank, Jr., followed in HIS footsteps.
Joe Reich is the the head football coach at Division Two Wingate University in North Carolina. Frank Reich, Jr. is a former NFL quarterback and the current offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers.
“I would say ‘yes’, it is my calling,” said the 50-year-old Reich, who graduated from Cedar Crest High School in the mid 1980s. “But if I wouldn’t be coaching football, I’d be teaching math somewhere. It’s more the education part of it. And there’s no doubt it comes back to my parents. This is what we do. As kids, we saw them teaching growing up. They were great educators. I remember sitting in (then CCHS guidance counselor) Dennis Tulli’s office, and I decided that’s what I want to be. I have not wavered from that decision since.
“I’m still me,” continued Reich. “At the beginning of my coaching career, I was all over the players screaming at them and yelling at them. Over the years, I’ve learned to use that when necessary. But I’m a teacher. I don’t want to say I’ve mellowed over the years. I’m more judicious when I yell. I remember telling my brother when he was a player that I didn’t think I was a very good counselor. That’s 40 percent of what I do. People bring you their problems, and some are very serious and life-altering. We have a lot more than you would think. You’ve got to be able to sit and talk and ask questions. We’re not counselors by trade, but we need to know the signs. Sometimes kids just need someone to talk to.”
In Reich’s 15 years at Wingate, the Bulldogs have evolved into a South Atlantic Conference power. The longest tenured head football coach in Wingate history, as well as the program’s winningest coach, Reich’s charges have compiled an overall mark of 90-65 since his arrival in 2001.
“Are we where we want to be?,” said Reich. “I want to build a dominant program. I want to be the school to beat in the conference. From a program standpoint, I feel good about it. I’d like to see us win eight-nine games every year. There’s a lot of good things we’re doing as a program. We need to continue to improve. We want to get the best of the best kids that we recruit.
“You’ve got to hire great people,” Reich added. “Here’s my view of being the head coach at Wingate University – I need to fill in where I’m needed. Sometimes I have to coach the coaches. I have to ask myself, ‘Where can I help the team the most?’. I rarely just come in and say, ‘This is what I want you to do’. After coaching for years, I’ve coached every position on the field. But to be at one place for 15 years has been a blessing. for sure.”
Reich is approaching 30 years overall in the coaching business.
Upon his graduation from Cedar Crest, Reich matriculated to Gettysburg College, where he toiled as an offensive lineman for the Bullets. Reich began his coaching career at Gettysburg, before becoming the defensive coordinator at Division One Buffalo University for eight seasons.
“At Buffalo, we were moving up to Division One and things were constantly in the news all the time,” said Reich. “There was more publicity, and the recruiting was different. The time away from home was pretty crushing. There was a constant thing of being away from home all the time. Here, all recruiting is local, within three hours, but the internal pressure is still there. We’re the front porch of the university. Everyone always wants to know how the football team is doing. The pressure is definitely there. When Wingate is winning, everything’s good.
“But life is good,” added Reich. “The best part of the job is that every year is new. Sometimes a guy can be a different guy from one year to the next. That’s exciting. But I’m not sure I could do anything else.”
Like a lot of his peers, coaching allows Reich to stay connected to the game he loves, and to stay in touch with a competitive side of himself. But at the end of the day, the results are secondary.
“I am a competitive guy,” said Reich. “My brother is too, and so is my sister. But it’s funny how I don’t remember the wins and losses. I remember the people. I try to keep a balance on it. But there’s more to it. This is part of the players’ education, as well. But the competitiveness is always there. When I wake up on Saturday, it’s on. And I’m always looking for that slight edge that can mean the difference between winning and losing.
“I love it,” continued Reich. “It beats working every day. I get up in the morning, and when I’m driving in I’m thinking, ‘I’m so fortunate to have a job like this.’ Sure there’s pressure. But we have a great bunch of guys. It’s not drudgery. It’s a lot of work. It’s a grind, but it’s a good grind. Because of my parents, it’s part of what we do.”
This season, Reich’s Bulldogs are off to a 3-0 start. In those three victories, Wingate has outscored its opponents by a combined margin of 81-16. The Bulldogs are coming off a 2014 campaign in which they went 6-5 overall and 3-4 in the South Atlantic Conference.
“It’s still early,” said Reich. “We’ve played three teams we were favored to beat. But any time you win a college football game, it’s important. In terms of playing to our potential, we’re not there yet. We’ve got to stay healthy.
“The goal every year is to win the conference,” continued Reich. “Our conference is so balanced right now, if a team can get on a roll, they can win it. I think we can do that if we stay healthy and improve every day. It’s like, ‘Let’s go 1-0, and focus on this game in front of us’.”
During his 14 years in the NFL – from 1985 to 1998 – with Buffalo, Carolina, the New York Jets and Detroit, Frank Reich, Jr. earned the title of ‘the greatest comeback quarterback’ in major football. Before becoming the Chargers’ offensive coordinator last year, Frank Reich, Jr. had been an assistant NFL coach with Indianapolis and Arizona.
Joe and Frank, Jr. are separated by the continental United States, and ironically, by the same demands of coaching football.
“We don’t see each other all that much, unfortunately,” said Joe Reich. “During the season, it’s difficult. We text-message during the season once a couple of weeks. When he gets breaks, I try to call him. We talk about offense, defense and how to get better. I’m really hoping this off-season I can get an opportunity to get out there and spend some time with him. Where he is is a level I’d like to be at someday.
“I don’t see any (Charger) games because we work on Sundays,” Reich continued. “But I’ve got Chargers’ alerts on my phone. The reality is he’s my brother. I have a vested interest in what he’s doing, and we’re both involved in the same things. He’s helped me a lot since I’ve been here, and I think I’ve been able to help him too. We do tend to think alike, but we have different personalities. He’s been a really good resource for me, in a lot of ways.
“I think for the most part, the older, 35-and-up crowd, they’ll remember some of the things he’s done. I think our players could care less. For them, that was three generations ago. But some will say, ‘Hey, that’s kind of cool that your brother in an NFL coach’.”
Joe Reich’s Career Record at Wingate
2001 (4-7, 1-6 SAC)
2002 (5-6, 2-5 SAC)
2003 (5-6, 2-5 SAC)
2004 (8-3, 4-3 SAC, receiving votes in NCAA poll)
2005 (5-5, 2-5 SAC)
2006 (8-3, 5-2 SAC, receiving votes in NCAA poll)
2007 (7-4, 2-4 SAC)
2008 (8-3, 4-3 SAC, receiving votes in NCAA poll)
2009 (7-3, 5-2 SAC, receiving votes in NCAA poll)
2010 (9-3, 6-1 SAC, #20 NCAA)
2011 (5-6, 4-3 SAC)
2012 (6-5, 5-2 SAC)
2013 (4-6, 3-4 SAC)
2014 (6-5, 3-4 SAC)