Editor's note: This interview was conducted prior to the start of training camp — so before quarterback Carson Wentz and left guard Quenton Nelson underwent foot procedures.
JJ Stankevitz: From last year with Philip Rivers, where you had that existing relationship with him, what did you learn about how to manage that — the existing relationship and knowledge you have about that quarterback — and how do you apply those lessons to Carson Wentz?
Frank Reich: What you learn is you want to really, it really helps when you have a previous relationship with a quarterback you've worked with — any player for that matter. Because you've worked together you physically know what he can do, what he's best at. You mentally know what makes him tick.
And as a coach, when it comes to the fundamentals and techniques, you know what the one or two spots are, the danger spots. When he gets in a rut, this is it — he starts to do this and we need to correct this. You know what drills, you know how to get those things corrected, you know what's worked.
But then I think it's also neat that what Philip and I experienced is, okay, we had this existing relationship, which was a great working relationship. But there was a freshness and a newness to it. Hey, we're creating something new here. This is a new team. And so don't try to live in the past. Even though you're building off an existing working relationship, keep looking forward. Keep talking about this team, this season and what we're doing here. These guys do that naturally, but I think that's important.
JJ: You look at your coaching staff and there are so many different connections on it — you've worked with Marcus (Brady), but Marcus has worked with Scott (Milanovich) in the CFL. You, Press (Taylor) and Mike (Groh) have been with Carson in Philadelphia. How do all those things come together to help Carson out this year?
FR: You just want that synergy and you want everybody to be on the same page, The chemistry isn't just amongst the players, it's amongst the whole building. Coaches and players gotta be connected in a deep way. And if the coaching staff isn't connected, the players feel that.
As you just alluded to, we got some really good, deep connections on this staff on many different levels. That just helps us as a team, as an organization, I think our players feel that and I think it helps unite us.
JJ: What excites you about working with Marcus now as an offensive coordinator?
FR: Marcus really gets it. He was a stud quarterback himself. He really came in and mentally, working with one of the brightest quarterbacks to ever play in Andrew Luck. And then working with Philip Rivers established himself that he can go toe-to-toe with the brightest NFL quarterbacks in the game. And he did a phenomenal job with those guys.
I'm excited for him to take this next step in leadership. Marcus, personality-wise, is pretty different than what Nick Sirianni was, but Marcus is a very strong leader in a much different way. Nick was kind of more of a yeller and screamer. Very animated. Marcus is more quiet and subdued.
Everyone knows a couple things, that Marcus knows what he's talking about, has a really good vision of what we're doing on offense and knows how to get it done. I can tell even the last few years where his experience as a professional quarterback shows up to me is on gameday — and in practice as well — but there's times in a game where I'll talk to him about something that we saw out there and I can just feel it. He saw it, he gets it, he's seeing what the quarterback sees, he's feeling what the quarterback feels, he has good instincts about that. So this is going to be a great opportunity for him.
JJ: One of my favorite things, I did a story on Marcus this year and I was talking to Marc Trestman about this — there was this 13-page packet called the "Read Bible" that Marc had they would give out to their quarterbacks in the CFL. And Marcus would go through it and edit it for proper fonts, so all the fonts were the same, and coach Milanovich said Marcus was almost his own personal editor for it. That level of detail, that's what stood out to me — when you see Marcus' level of detail, how does that stand out?
FR: That's where you feel it because he's done the work. And he knows what good work is. And so when you have that level of detail, these players are so good and so smart that they feel that. And that's why Marcus has earned the spot that he's in. Really excited for him.
JJ: What have you come to appreciate about T.Y. going into Year 4 coaching him?
FR: I always knew T.Y. was a great player, but what I've really enjoyed watching is what a great leader he is and how hard he works physically. But just how great a teammate he is. I'm sure he's got a selfish bone in his body because we all do, but when we're out on the practice field and out in games, I feel like he's an incredibly unselfish player.
Like when he comes to me on the sideline, if he hasn't got the ball, and he's like 'come on,' indicating to me, come on, get me the ball — I know that can be done in two different ways. That can be done like hey, what are you doing, get me the football. Or that can be done like, hey man, I want to help, I can beat this guy, I can get us going, I can be the spark. That's the way T.Y. does that. I just love the guy.
JJ: When you have a room of young receivers like Michael Pittman Jr., Zach Pascal, Dezmon Patmon, all these guys — when they see that, what does that do for them?
FR: It's everything. We step in that skill room, when we got all the pass guys in there, the receivers, tight ends, running backs, quarterbacks, and we're talking about what we're going to do on offense. And one of the things we say at every meetings, one of the first meetings, is hey guys, this needs to be the most unselfish skill group in the NFL.
Because guess what we're going to do? We're going to spread the ball around. That's what we do. So we got a lot of superstar players in here but we're interested in getting superstar production, but we can get that a lot of different ways because we got a lot of great players in here. So I'm not interested in building anybody's personal stat line. I know it's going to come. I know there's numbers everybody wants to hit and I want you to hit those numbers too. But the way we do it here is we spread it around.
And T.Y. leads the way. He leads the way with that and you know it's genuine. And guys root for each other. They all want the ball, they all want to have their best career statistical seasons and I want each one of them to have that. But that's probably not going to happen.
The way a season goes and sometimes what I've done as a play caller and game planner is when we had (Eric) Ebron and Ebron got hot, it's like, okay, you just play that card. Last year at the beginning of the year, Trey Burton had a bunch of touchdowns early in the year and then that kind of fizzled out a little bit, and then somebody else gets going, and then Zach Pascal gets going.
You play that hot hand. We just kind of keep playing the hot hand, somebody gets momentum and all of a sudden teams start adjusting to them, then boom we adjust, and we got the personnel to do that. I think our guys know that and we just tell them be patient. The ball's going to come their way.
JJ: I'm guessing that's what you're telling your running backs now too, with that deep versatile room — it's probably a similar message, isn't it?
FR: It's a very similar message. I think going into this season this year, it'll be a little bit more, hey, Jonathan will be a little bit more of the bell cow. But we're still going to spread it around. Nyheim's gotta touch the football. Jordan is incredible — I'm a big Jordan Wilkins fan. Jordan is incredibly talented. We're going to continue to spread it around but I think Jonathan has established himself as the guy, hey, he's our main running back and then we'll complement him with Nyheim and the other guys.
JJ: A lot of folks look at the first five games and say, man, that's a tough stretch. You got playoff team (Seahawks), playoff team (Rams), playoff team (Titans), team that almost made the playoffs (Dolphins), playoff team (Ravens) in that stretch. Does the culture established help you form an identity quicker? Or do you have to form that identity quicker this year because of the schedule? Or do you just focus on your own team?
FR: You look at it every year, every year there's a last-place team that becomes a first-place team. Last year, we can look at the schedule and I understand that if I was a fan or if I was in the media, I would look at the schedule and say, oh, there's five playoff teams there, virtually.
I just don't look at it like that. I respect every opponent. That's last years news, you know what I mean? We take it week by week. And yeah, we establish our identity by our values, who we are, what we are philosophically as an offense, defense and special teams and who we are as a team together. And then as you said, as the season progresses, that takes little twists and turns but you really have to take that mindset of you can't get too focused — you can only focus on one thing, and that's the next game. It literally is the next game. And so if you start worrying about the game you just had or two games out, that's just a formula for disaster.
Nobody knows how the seasons going to unfold, how good each team is going to be, what injuries they're going to have or not have, what ups and downs and breaks go this way or that way. Every team is good in my mind. I look at our schedule right there and say we can beat every one of those teams and every one of those teams is capable of beating us. We're going to do what we do. We're going to practice hard, we're going to prepare hard and we're going to play them one at a time and then see what happens.
JJ: These 19 practices up at Grand Park, that's almost an unprecedented amount of access for fans to get to know the team. What do you get out of those practices or being away at Grand Park?
FR: We like the fact that fans can be there, so that's fun. Coaches, we like training camp practices, training camp days because they're longer. In the regular season, players are done with meetings at 5:30, 6 o'clock. Training camp, you're done at 8:30, 9 o'clock. So we get a couple hours more meeting time. And it's training camp, so you work hard, you meet long and you practice long and you practice hard and you form that foundation, that identity, you work through your fundamentals and technique.
It's great that the fans can be there. We're not really worried about that, we're happy about that, we're there to get ready for the season. But I'm old school about training camp. I just think it's a special time.
JJ: You've now been with Matt Eberflus for four years. What've you come to appreciate about what he does on that side of the ball?
FR: He has a clear vision of what he wants to do schematically and how he wants to do it, how he wants to coach it. I love the fact that Flus has a clear set of standards, expectations for how we're going to play defense by each position, what that looks like, what that means, what it takes to get there. So I think 'Flus paints a very clear picture of what's required and what we're trying to do on defense.
The other thing I appreciate about 'Flus is he's very consistent with every position, with every player, the standards are the standards and nobody's getting special treatment. This is how we gotta play defense and so let's hold ourselves to this standard.
JJ: Where does the leadership come from on that side of the ball? I know Anthony Walker was a big part of that last year.
FR: I think DeForest is a huge leader on that side of the ball. Darius, Kenny Moore, Khari Willis is a strong leader. Grover — I could go on and on. Julian Blackmon is young but I think he's growing as a strong leader. You got Xavier Rhodes who's a vet so he provides a certain kind of leadership from his experience. But I think if you're looking at the two or three guys who are the core leaders, it's probably DeForest and Darius and Kenny. But along with some other really good leaders.
JJ: Last one for you. There's a bit of a #GirlDad baby boom in your locker room — Julian and Pittman had their first two children, both daughters. Darius had his second daughter, Carson has his second daughter on the way. You're the father of three daughters and you have two granddaughters. Any advice for the #GirlDads in your locker room?
FR: Yeah, that's exciting. I, as a girl dad — it's funny, people over the years would say, didn't you want to try for a boy? There's times I get frustrated by that. The thought never crossed my mind. I got the three greatest daughters in the world. And I know these guys, I believe we all feel the same way. I think being a girl dad is we want to raise strong women.
I think the best thing that a girl dad can do is do two things: No. 1, be a great husband and show that daughter of yours what it looks like, what a picture looks like of the person they want to marry one day. I've always thought that, that I want to provide a picture and a model of someone they would have a vision to marry one day. And secondly was just, be tough. You gotta be gentle and love them unconditionally but also just be a dad. Hold them accountable, love 'em up. I really believe in unconditional love but also having high standards and how those two go together.