INDIANAPOLIS — We already knew Frank Reich's journey to becoming the Indianapolis Colts' head coach last offseason seemed just as improbable as it did extraordinary, but a recent revelation has added even more of a twist.
Would you believe that Reich was offered the opportunity to become Peyton Manning's very first NFL position coach with the Colts back in 1998 — and he turned it down?
It's the truth, and it's a story that Reich revealed on Friday night at Sun King Brewery in Indianapolis, where he was the special guest at an exclusive Q&A event hosted by NBC Sports' Peter King that benefited Ascent 121, which provides trauma recovery services for Indiana teen survivors of human trafficking.
Thanks to King's "Football Morning in America" column on Monday, we have a full transcript of the conversation.
Here's the short version: Reich had just wrapped up his 13th season as an NFL quarterback in 1997 when he decided to retire. Bill Polian, the general manager of the Buffalo Bills when Reich entered the NFL in 1985, was now the GM of the Indianapolis Colts, and knew the team would likely be selecting Manning with the No. 1-overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.
"I got a phone call from Bill Polian saying, 'Hey, would you come and work for me here in Indianapolis?' The draft wasn't yet but they were getting ready. He was getting ready to draft a pretty good player," Reich recalled Friday. "He said, 'I want you to come here and be [Manning's] quarterback coach.' This is true story. He's like, 'I want you to come here. You're exactly the guy. I want you to be his quarterback coach. You'll be his quarterback coach, then you'll be a coordinator. And you'll be a head coach in this league in a matter of years.'"
But with a wife and three young daughters at home, Reich ultimately decided to turn down Polian's offer for the opportunity to "drive my daughters to school, change their diapers, be at their swim meets, help them with their math homework and do all those things."
Reich actually ended up coming back to play in parts of six games with two starts for the Detroit Lions in the 1998 season, and then officially retired for good. He thought he'd be coaching within a couple years, but enjoyed his new role as a full-time dad so much that it wasn't until around 2006 that he got the itch to come back to the NFL.
"Seven or eight years later, when I had been to a lot of swim meets and done a lot of math homework— I re-learned all of my algebra — I knew it was time," Reich said. "But I knew this time I was going to have to go the long road. I was a little bit worried they were going to say the game had passed this old man by."
The good news, after Reich called Polian to express his interest in joining the Colts' coaching staff, now under head coach Tony Dungy, was that there was a spot waiting for him. But, as Polian told Reich that day: "You're gonna have to be entry-level."
"I volunteered for six months. I volunteered for six months without pay," Reich recalled of his coaching internship in Indy that year. "They put me up. They paid for my hotel room. I was just trying to show the staff, Tom Moore and the offensive staff that they could trust me — Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell and the crew. Started out at the bottom and then just slowly worked my way up, thinking it might not ever happen."
Reich, indeed, worked his way up the ladder. He was promoted to offensive assistant in 2008, actually served as Manning's quarterbacks coach in 2009-10 and spent his final season as an assistant on the Colts' staff as the wide receivers coach in 2011. All told, during his first stint in Indianapolis, Reich was on staffs that advanced to two Super Bowls, winning the title in Super Bowl XLI.
Reich moved on to be wide receivers coach with the Arizona Cardinals in 2012 before taking a job with San Diego Chargers the following year, where he got his big break when he was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2014. After two seasons, Reich was hired as the offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles, where he would win a Super Bowl title in his second year in the City of Brotherly Love.
And then, as we all know by now, after New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels initially accepted, and then ultimately decided to turn down, the chance to be the next Colts head coach early last year, the team turned to Reich, and it hasn't looked back since.
Funny how things work out like that.
"When it came full circle, to be able to be the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, I mean … for me, and my wife and our family, it was like literally a dream come true," Reich told King. "Anybody who knows anything about it or read anything about it, knows that in my heart it was a God thing. I just think it was meant to be for me to be in this city, with this team, with this organization, for this time. It's pretty special."
The Colts hire Frank Reich as the new head coach!