WESTFIELD, Ind. – Those who were around Reggie Wayne during his playing career not only knew how great a player he was – they believed in the kind of coach he could be someday, too.
"A guy like Reggie Wayne brings so much — I mean, trust me, I've watched games with him," Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay told Colts.com in March. "He's so smart. Incredible vision and understanding of the game. Incredible. And also his work ethic, his expectation, how he understands the mental and the physical toughness, what it takes — I mean, he brings all those components to a young man that comes into us who might be 21 years old, and now he's got Reggie Wayne there to say, let me help you get your game up to where mine was."
That's why Frank Reich tried to hire Wayne to his coaching staff for years. In 2022, he got his wish, bringing the guy whose name and number are enshrined in the Ring of Honor at Lucas Oil Stadium to the Colts' sideline.
And now that Wayne is leading a young wide receiver room – the oldest player in it is 26-year-old Isaiah Ford – the Colts are feeling the positive effect they always knew he could make.
"Reggie's been unbelievable," Reich said. "I cannot tell you how fast an adjustment he's made to the coaching life. He's had an impact in that room already, you can see it. A couple of things technically that he brings to the table, the way he's teaching them to get in and out of breaks, I think. I see it, I saw it in OTAs. I feel like we've gotten better and then, I just think the air of confidence that Reggie has and that he's played and played at such a high level."
Wayne brings the confidence to coaching of someone who had 14,345 receiving yards over 14 Hall of Fame-worthy seasons. But it's not like he's constantly showing his guys his highlight reel – in fact, Michael Pittman Jr. said Wayne never puts on film of himself.
Even if some of his wide receivers don't remember his playing career.
"These guys, they play Madden all day. I'm not on Madden anymore," Wayne said. "It's just a different world, different feel. But to some degree I think that's good. That way I can teach them who I am as I teach them how to get better."
But Wayne's been there, done that experience has already made a strong impression on the guys he's coaching. Pittman, who had 88 catches and 1,082 yards in 2021, said Wayne is "one of my favorite coaches that I've ever had."
One way Wayne's understanding of the player experience helped was on Saturday evening, before the Colts held a practice in front of a capacity crowd at Grand Park. Wayne went up to Alec Pierce and told him to relax – because Wayne remembered what it was like to be a highly-drafted rookie going through early training camp practices.
"Just like I was, everything's pressing, pressing," Wayne said. "He's trying to be perfect on every single thing. And that's not gonna happen, so just relax and let it come to you.
"... You're gonna mess up, the vets mess up, so it's just relax, play football and let it come to you."
Wayne also knows the impact he, as a position coach, can make by recognizing when his players do well. It's a breath of fresh air, he said, to get that little bit of encouragement.
But while he's working to build up his guys' confidence, it certainly has to be earned.
"When you do good, you need to praise them," Wayne said. "When they do bad, you need to tell them it looked like trash."
All of this is why Reich said Wayne is "way ahead of the curve" as a position coach. And Wayne, too, isn't coming in thinking he has all the answers – he's collaborated with offensive coordinator Marcus Brady and running backs coach Scottie Montgomery, both of whom have experience as wide receiver coaches (Brady in the CFL, Montgomery with the Pittsburgh Steelers).
"Reggie's done a phenomenal job with these guys," Reich said. "I mean Reggie, you talk about 'it' factor, Reggie has brought an 'it' factor to that room that I think is going to really help those young guys take a good step."