INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich this week sat down with Colts.com's Larra Overton as the team gets ready for next week's NFL Scouting Combine in Indy. What's the latest on the newest coaching staff additions and changes, combine approaches and how the team plans to bounce back in 2020?
Here's that full conversation, which you can listen to in its entirety below:
What have you taken from the two previous Combines as the Colts' head coach that affect how you go into this year's Combine?
Reich: "Yeah, it's an important time, so you learn, first of all, to be patient — it's still early. So you get excited, you see guys and you tend to get excited, but you've gotta be patient. No. 2, it's all about weighted averages. You get little pieces of information, and it's about how much weight do assign, how important is that to us, as a club? And then thirdly it's a real collaborative process, so it's a time to work with the other coaches and scouts, and Chris (Ballard) and I getting together and talking through each guy, player by player."
What is that process like between Chris Ballard and yourself as you're sitting together at the Combine watching and evaluating prospects?
Reich: "Yeah, I mean, really, in my role, it's really one of the highlights for me, getting to work with Chris, talking about our players, but then players who could be our players. A lot of conversations in his office, my office, on the phone, texting back and forth. It's a lot of give and take, it's a lot of pushing each other, asking questions. You know, Chris a lot of times is asking schematically — we're always talking about the fit into our schemes, the fit into our locker room; those are really important factors."
What are the ways in which you identify, evaluate and target the potential talent and how it could impact the roster and locker room?
Reich: "I mean, there's several ways that I could think of. Obviously you're looking at their physical ability, how they move, how they play; you see that on tape. In the Combine, you're just measuring their athletic talent. So that's a big part of it, obviously. But then also there's an intellectual side. You get these interviews, you really wanna dig down into their football intelligence, and how much do they know, what have they been exposed to? And then you're also looking for those intangibles, those Horseshoe qualities that we look for, kind of the football character that we think is so important."
What are you hoping to get out of those Combine prospect interviews considering they're so limited in length?
Reich: "Yeah, it's interesting. With different teams I've been with you take different approaches, but what we do here is the biggest factor is you've gotta have a plan. The interview is so short, so you can't waste any time. So you have a definitive plan. We have our approach; Chris and Ed Dodds kind of turn it over to the coaches to really dig down; we have tape that we show them — typically it's their own tape — that we want to dig down and get into, 'What were you thinking here? Why did you do this?' and try to get as much information as we can in that short time.
Two teams within the AFC South Division advanced deep into the playoffs, with the Tennessee Titans getting to the AFC Championship Game. How much does that impact wanting to improve and how you tackle this offseason?
Reich: "It's exciting. I mean, we play in a good division. A lot of good players, a lot of good coaches, so the bar is set high. We love the fact that we're in a competitive division. I always felt like (if) you play against good teams it makes you better, so we have that luxury. Our division, there's nobody easy in our division, so we've gotta find ways — you've got to win all your games — but like every other team it starts with being dominant in your division. So how do we not only get better, but how do we get better to beat first and foremost the teams within our division?"
You've made some changes and additions to your coaching staff this offseason. On the offensive side of the ball, Mike Groh is hired as wide receivers coach, and Kevin Patullo moves to passing game specialist. How did you identify that role as an area of need?
Reich: "I'm really excited about it. When Mike Groh became available — we worked together in Philadelphia the year we went to the Super Bowl, that I was the (offensive) coordinator, he was the receiver coach, Mike really contributed a lot to the success that we had there, and I know he did a really good job in Philadelphia; they continued to go to the playoffs after I left there with him as the coordinator. Very knowledgeable guy — I think he's one of the finest wide receiver coaches in the country, so he was, in essence, a free agent, and Chris Ballard has history with him in Chicago, of course I had the history with him, so to get him here as a receiver coach … Kevin's great in the pass game. He played quarterback, he has a lot of experience as a quarterback coach, as a receiver coach, so he has good (experience), and he and Nick Sirianni have a great relationship as far as helping the gameplan in the pass game. So I think it's going to help make us better."
Jerrod Johnson was previously on the staff as part of the Bill Walsh coaching fellowship. He remains on and now has a role as offensive quality control coach. After being involved in the offensive gameplanning last season, how does this new role for him allow him to grow on the staff?
Reich: "Yeah, I mean, Jerrod's a rising star. He really did a great job last year. I'm excited that he can kind of step up, get promoted if you will — he earned it. He earned every step of it. And being that former NFL quarterback that always comes into play, so he's got a little bit of that, he sees the game the right way, he's got that swagger, he relates well to the players, but really what you've gotta prove as a coach is that you can grind it out and do the work, and he's done a great job."
On the defensive staff, you hire Brian Baker as the defensive line coach. You go all the way back to your college playing days at Maryland with Baker — what will he add to the equation?
Reich: "Yeah, Bake is a dynamic coach. We were teammates — we came in the same year at the University of Maryland, I followed his career, we've kept in touch. You know, this is really one of the highlights as a head coach, that you get to hire your own staff, guys that you trust and guys that you know are quality coaches, and Brian Baker is certainly one of those guys. Really a very successful linebacker coach and D-line coach; if I were to list all the D-line player that he's coached with the production that they've had, it's a very long list, very productive list, so it'll be a great addition to the staff."
Matt Raich was hired as a special defensive assistant/assistant defensive line coach, with whom you worked with in Arizona with the Cardinals. What excites you about bringing him on board?
Reich: "Yeah, Matt Raich is gonna take a role of kind of a special defensive assistant, so he kind of brings that outside perspective to bring ideas, to help 'Flus (Matt Eberflus), really, in big-picture things, in gameplanning, to do additional special projects. These days offenses, they all offer unique things; to have one extra guy on the staff who can get ahead in certain places will really help our staff as a whole. And then the D-line is always a big group, so you need a second guy out there, and he has a history and an experience coaching D-line, so he'll assist Brian Baker in coaching the defensive line. Also a great coach; when we were together in Arizona, I always thought that he did a tremendous job."
Looking at your rookie class from 2019, how beneficial is it that this period of time they're not dealing with the uncertainty that they had this time last year as they went through the draft process?
Reich: "Yeah, I'm excited for them. That rookie year's a tough year; I mean, it's a grind. I mean, the whole process up to the draft is grueling. So now they have an opportunity to get into the rhythm of what it is to be a pro, experience what it's like to have these few months not to take vacation, but to get your body right, to get in shape, to keep getting stronger as the year goes on. And then we get back in April, get that cycle, they already know the system now so they can get a year in deeper. So really expect big strides for them as they continue to develop."
You always talk about loving the process, whether it's in-season or the offseason. What's most exciting for you about this period of time from mid-February through the end of April and the team that's building for 2020?
Reich: "Yeah, just an opportunity to get better. We do talk about the process, but we know that we're in a results-oriented business, so we have an opportunity to get better. First of all, the guys that are here, you add new blood, they bring talent, and they bring certain intangibles to the core, so it's exciting. That's what keeps it fresh. We're in a very competitive division — last year, finished on a sour note, so it's exciting to get back and figure out ways that we can get better and make improvements from last year."