Colts’ Frank Reich: ‘Back-up role has suited me well in my career’
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Indianapolis Colts’ brain trust admitted to a temporary case of brain freeze.
It was Frank Reich Day at Lucas Lucas Oil Stadium Tuesday, but let’s not kid ourselves. That never was the plan.
The plan was Josh McDaniels. The upscale press conference announcing Reich came a week after McDaniels’ introductory shindig was scrubbed.
When the Colts launched their search for Chuck Pagano’s successor six weeks ago, general manager Chris Ballard scanned a list of his top-5 candidates and began interviewing one after another.
Frank Reich? The Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive coordinator had made it known through his agent he wouldn’t be entertaining any head coaching offers. He was “going dark’’ – no phone calls, no texts gauging his interest in a vacancy – to be totally focused on a playoff run that would end with the Eagles outgunning New England 41-33 in Super Bowl LII.
Not that it mattered. Frank Reich wasn’t even on the Colts’ radar.
“Not in our first 5,’’ Ballard conceded, offering a sheepish grin.
But Frank Reich is the last man standing. Not McDaniels, Mike Vrabel, Matt Nagy, Kris Richard or Matt Rhule. And not two others from post-McDaniels search: Dan Campbell or Leslie Frazier.
How in the world does that happen?
“I’ve thought a lot about that, too,’’ Ballard said. “I thought about it after I got done interviewing him. I go, ‘My Lord, what was I thinking?’ You talk to people. You make your list. You don’t panic.’’
You regroup, you persevere and you wind up with the guy you now consider to be “the perfect fit.’’
Listen to Jim Irsay.
“It’s interesting because he is such a perfect fit for us,’’ the Colts owner said. “I’ve been through processes where I’ve interviewed as many as 12 or 13 coaches and as few as maybe two.
“I know you think it’s natural for me to say, but the more I think about it, the more I think, ‘Jim, how can you be so stupid? How could you not have seen the clarity of this sooner?’’’
As Reich stood behind a podium in the West Club Lounge at Lucas Oil Stadium, the elephant in the room was Josh McDaniels. On more than one occasion, he was asked a McDaniels-related question.
He smiled. Remember, this is a veteran of 13 NFL seasons and 132 games. All but 22 came in a relief role.
“The back-up role has suited me well in my career,’’ Reich said.
But you weren’t the Colts’ first choice. Or second. Or third, for that matter.
“I embrace it. I embrace it,’’ Reich said without flinching. “That’s just part of this business. The ebbs and flows of it are exciting.
“If you can’t handle it and can’t embrace it, you should really go do something else. So it’s an exciting opportunity to forge together with other men around a common vision and move forward and be thankful for how things come together.
“Sometimes that’s the best way for it to happen.’’
Sometimes the best deals – or hirings – are the ones that don’t come to fruition.
That’s been the overriding theme as the Colts distanced themselves from the mess created by McDaniels and searched for the appropriate fallback plan.
“If you look at the history of any of the coaching hires,’’ Ballard explained, “it doesn’t matter if you’re first or you’re last. It’s about getting it right. At the end of the day, it’s about getting it right.
“And we got it right.’’
That became more and more evident when Reich and the Colts shared a day-long meeting Friday. It came a day after Reich’s final function with the Eagles: their championship parade through the streets of Philadelphia.
As Ballard spoke with Reich, he realized their grand-picture visions meshed.
“Our vision matched about people, about process, about the way we wanted to play the game, both offensively and defensively, and that’s hard to find,’’ Ballard said. “A lot of time you’ll see with GM/head coaches, when they’re not on the same page philosophically, it’s hard to make it work . . . because now you’re going to be drafting players that don’t fit the scheme, and that’s hard.’’
One issue struck Ballard during the meeting. At no point did Reich quiz him on the status of quarterback Andrew Luck, who’s on the West Coast attacking his on-going rehab from shoulder surgery. Ballard said there was no update on Luck’s rehab.
“I had to volunteer it at the end,’’ Ballard said. “I said, ‘OK, let me give you an update where we’re at.’ He was good. He didn’t ask one time about Andrew.’’
What did that tell Ballard about his new head coach?
“Very confident man, that he can get it done,’’ he said. “He just did it with Nick.’’
The Eagles won their first Super Bowl championship despite losing starting quarterback Carson Wentz to a knee injury in December. Backup Nick Foles stepped in and finished the job. The backup QB was named Super Bowl MVP.
“That shows me a man that’s very confident in his ability to develop and coach the quarterback position and develop an offense that can move with whoever’s under center.’’
Even though the Reich era is in its infancy, there already are pillars in place. Such as:
Versatile, attacking offense:
Yes, Reich will call the plays, and it’s obvious he’ll do so with gusto.
“We will be a multiple, attack, up-tempo offense,’’ he said. “We will be aggressive. We’ll change things up. What I mean by multiple is we’ll use multiple personnel groups and multiple formations.
“We’ll change the tempo. There will be a strong element of the no-huddle offense. We’ll build the players around that kind of scheme.’’
Reich reportedly has hired former Chargers receivers coach Nick Sirianni to be his coordinator.
The 3-4 gave way to a 4-3 scheme under new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, whose arrival preceded Reich’s. That’s just fine with Reich.
“I’ve had a chance to talk to Matt at length,’’ he said. “And it’s like a home run. Things happen in strange ways. This is a crazy business. But I could not be more excited to have those three coaches and I look forward to the other coaches who will be on our staff.’’
Also hired, pre-Reich: defensive line coach Mike Phair and offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo.
Ballard believes a 4-3 defense ideally suits an indoor team. It accentuates speed and athleticism, both offensively land defensively.
That shared vision:
No one should question whether Reich, 56, is up for the task. He’s been involved in the NFL for 25 years as a player and coach. He’s put in the time, prepared himself for whenever an opportunity might present itself.
And it’s appropriate he’s getting his first head coaching job with the franchise that offered him his first coaching experience. Then-general manager Bill Polian brought in Reich as an intern in 2006.
Reich rattled off key points that will be Colts’ trademarks moving forward: being tough physically and mentally; a relentless pursuit to improve every day; an obsession to finish strong; discipline; preparation; a close-knit team.
“It’s going to be built around trust, respect and love,’’ Reich said. “A love of the game. We want players who love the game of football, love to come to work every day. Players that love each other and players that have vision realize it’s bigger than them.
“I really believe we’re going to work together to do something special for this city and our organization, something that will be remembered for a very long time.’’