Reich Always Considered Coaching a Possibility
INDIANAPOLIS – The idea has been there since he can remember.
Frank Reich, one of the NFL's top backup quarterbacks in the 1980s and 1990s, always figured he would coach football. Early in 1986, shortly after his rookie season with the Buffalo Bills, a conversation with a team executive brought the figuring into focus.
Bill Polian, now preparing for his 12th season as the Colts' president.
"He said, 'You should play as long as you can,' but when you get done playing, you really need to think about coaching," Reich recalled.
Two decades later, Reich is doing just that.
Reich, who played 14 NFL seasons with Buffalo, Carolina, the New York Jets and Detroit, spent the past season as an offensive assistant with the Colts. Early last week, when Jim Caldwell – who coached quarterbacks the past seven seasons – ascended from associate head coach to head coach, he announced his first staff move.
The move was promoting Reich to quarterbacks coach.
"Frank is very capable," Caldwell said last week. "He had an opunity to work with us last year, kind of got a good feel for the lay of the land. He's an expert at what he does. He's played 13 or 14 years in this league.
"He's done an outstanding job and I would expect him to be able to carry that load and do a tremendous job. We're looking forward to that."
For Reich, the move was more than a promotion. It was the latest step on a path that began even before the 1986 conversation with Polian, then early in his tenure as the Bills' general manager.
Reich's father was a high school football coach. And Reich's first coaching position was at Wingate (N.C.) University, where his brother, Joe, was the head coach.
Even his mom, he said, was a coach.
"As they say, 'It's in my blood,''' he said, smiling.
He also was pushed towards the profession by more people than Polian.
"I'd been encouraged by coaches along my career – the quarterback coaches I've had, the offensive coordinators that I'd been associated with – pretty much everyone of them said, 'Hey, you need to consider coaching," Reich said. "You're kind of cut out of this cloth. This is something you'd love and you'd be good at."
Reich, who played collegiately at the University of Maryland, said he kept the conversation with Polian in mind for much of the past two decades. He also kept in touch with Polian, who as general manager of the Carolina Panthers drafted Reich in the 1995 expansion draft.
Reich said the two talked off and on through the years about Reich possibly returning to the league as a coach. The timing, Reich said, was never right.
Then, two years ago, Reich joined the Colts as training camp assistant.
He spent this past season as an offensive quality control coach, moving to the quarterback coaching position when Caldwell – who handled the duties in addition to being the associate head coach – succeeded Tony Dungy as head coach last week.
"To be able to be hired like that was a tremendous opportunity," Reich said. "In one respect, you can say, 'Well, I don't need to bring anybody new in at this point.' So, Tony was very gracious and wanted to open the door for me."
And Reich, who retired following the 1998 season, said while he long had been sure he wanted to return to coaching, he became certain of it during his summer with the Colts.
"I said to Coach Dungy, 'I'm here for two reasons – one, to see how brightly is the fire burning, and two, I want to see what it means to be a pro as a coach,''' Reich said. "That was my biggest learning curve. I knew what it means to be a pro as a player – the physical work you needed to do, the mental preparations, the teamwork – but what does it mean to be a pro as a coach."
As for the "fire," Reich said with a smile, "I kind of knew it was there going in, but it was more of a confirmation. That didn't take long to see."
Throughout his playing career, Reich said he approached his job in a sense like an assistant coach, arriving at the teams' facilities on Tuesdays – the players' normal day off – to begin studying the week's game plan.
"Not that I was opposed to coaching at other levels, but quite honestly, as a backup quarterback for my entire career, I always felt I was kind of a coach," Reich said. "I'm always careful to say that, because I don't want to discredit the coaches. I know I wasn't sitting in those long meetings, like coaches do. Yet, I've always had a real love, affinity and respect for coaches. The places I played in the NFL, I was always very close with the coaching staff.
"I'd sit in with coaches when I could. I always wanted to be involved. I was always open to other avenues, but I really like the competition at the highest level and working with players at the highest level is a great challenge and a great thrill, obviously."
Reich said that makes part of the appeal of working with the Colts obvious: a chance to work with the player he said may be the best player in the history of the position: three-time NFL Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning.
"Mechanically and knowledge-wise, he's at the top of not only his game, but he's at the top of the heap all-time of people who have the skills and intangibles to play it," Reich said. "But I really believe because this is such a team game – and is so competitive – that you don't get to be in the position he is in by doing it yourself. I would imagine he would say that, as would any other player.
"It takes a lot of work to be able to work and to excel and to win, and to improve. By its very nature, the position – and every position in the league – just requires a lot of work. It requires dependence on other people. Even if you're the smartest guy in the world, if you're only depending on yourself, you're only going to get so far.
"My role is to continue to help him and the team in any way I can to prepare for each game."
And while Reich spent more than a decade out of professional football, he said upon his return, he realized, "it really hadn't changed that much."
"There were a few things that were new, but really not many," he said.
Reich, who worked primarily as a quality-control coach this past season, said he also developed a close relationship this past offseason with Colts backup quarterback Jim Sorgi, with whom he said he has more than a bit in common.
Reich spent much of his career with the Bills (1985-1994), where he was the backup to Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. Reich is most remembered in NFL circles for his role in one of the greatest postseason comebacks in NFL history, when he quarterbacked the Bills during a 41-38 overtime victory over the Houston Oilers. The Bills rallied from a 35-3 second-half deficit in that game, with Reich throwing four second-half touchdown passes.
Yet, aside from that postseason, Reich played sparingly for the Bills, starting three games.
In five NFL seasons, Sorgi never has started a game, with Manning never having missed a start in 11 NFL seasons.
Reich this week called himself a "big Jim Sorgi fan."
"I hope I can help a lot," said Reich, who started 15 games in 14 NFL seasons, throwing for 6,075 yards and 40 touchdowns.
It is in the area of hands-on, day-to-day working with the quarterbacks that Reich said his job will change most with his promotion. Whereas last year, he focused on quality control work such as breaking down game film while assisting with the quarterback position, this season his primary focus will be the quarterback position.
"I'll essentially take on the responsibilities that Jim (Caldwell) was taking," Reich said, adding with a smile, "He assured me there would be no time to do anything I was doing last year. I saw that first-hand."
Reich said he never doubted this past season the return to the NFL – and the move into professional coaching was the correct one. He said that notion was confirmed when he spoke with Don Beebe, a former teammate with the Bills in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
"He asked me, 'How was the grind?' – that legendary grind that coaches go through," Reich said. "I don't know if it was my first year – and not that I don't feel like I worked very hard – but I'm not sure I would use the word, 'Grind,' to describe it. He said, 'Well, tell me a typical week.' I started rolling through what a typical week was, and he said, 'That sounds like a grind to me. That's a lot of hours.' I said, 'Well, I guess it is, but it didn't feel like a lot of hours.' I know it sounds kind of corny, but it's really true."
"I always thought I would coach," Reich said. "Somehow, someway. I wanted to coach. When you look at the coaching profession, you realize there are many different journeys you take in coaching. It's a great profession, but there are a lot of ups and downs in it at every level.
"For me to be able to connect with an organization like this early on in a coaching career is just a tremendous blessing, to say the least."