Inside Frank Reich's journey from NFL QB to Panthers coach

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Imagine completing a 14-year profession as an NFL quarterback and being used the opportunity to coach quarterback Peyton Manning. Never mind you have no training experience. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to remain in a video game you have actually liked considering that you were a youngster.

The Indianapolis Colts used Frank Reich that chance in 1998.

Reich rather selected a various course: the seminary.

“He said, ‘Gee, thank you. I’m honored,”’ recalled then-Colts president Bill Polian, who knew Reich from their time together with the Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers. “You understand how respectful he is. And he called me back and stated, ‘Bill, I can’t do it today. I’m dedicated to these individuals, and I provided my word, and as attracting as it is, I can’t go back on my word.’

“And then seven or eight years later, he called out of the blue and said, ‘I’m ready to go into coaching. I’ll do anything you want me to do, including volunteer work with no pay just to get my foot in the door.”’

Reich, 61, initially chose the seminary to follow a call that had been building during the second half of his playing career, when he held Bible studies with teammates and shared his spiritual journey.

“As a professional professional athlete for 14 years, there were a great deal of chances to go to churches and daddy and child banquets and provide a testament [of my spiritual journey],” Reich stated. “I really enjoyed doing that — and in doing that and seeing the positive impact.

“So I seemed like if I went to seminary, I might get a more official training that would assist me … I wished to have the ability to go deeper than that, and discuss the ‘why’ behind it.”

Seven years at Reformed Theological Seminary, buried in the high pines and azaleas of South Charlotte, assisted shape Reich into who he is today as Carolina’s 6th head coach.

It was likewise throughout those years, after he finished his divinity degree and acted as pastor at a Presbyterian church in the Ballantyne location of Charlotte for 3 years, that Reich understood he might serve a bigger and more varied audience in the NFL.

Reich thought, as a number of at the seminary remembered, he might satisfy his vision for ministry as a coach instead of a preacher.

Now, 25 years after handing down the opportunity to coach Manning, he will coach the No. 1 general choice of the 2023 draft, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young.

“I learned things during those years that I literally use every day as a coach, in relating to people, in teaching and instructing, universal principles that you learn in seminary that apply to everyday life,” said Reich, who was Carolina’s first starting quarterback 28 years ago.

“I discovered academy was for daily living, consisting of being a football coach.”

POLIAN WASN’T SHOCKED when Reich declined his deal.

Having understood Reich’s devotion as a gamer with the Bills (1985-94) and Panthers (1995), Polian would have been more shocked had actually the deal been accepted.

“He’s always been a person that focused on doing what he told people he would do, following up on commitments,” Polian said. “And when he chose to come back [with the Colts in 2006], and I stated you’re going to need to begin as a training assistant, normal of him, ‘Hey, whatever it takes, I’ll do.”’

Those in seminary rapidly saw Reich’s modest and unselfish work as a trainee.

“Frank is a man, first, who wants to make the right and good choices for himself and his family,” said Dr. Richard Pratt, a former Reformed Theological Seminary professor. “He’s not after promos and getting ahead.”

Current RTS president Michael Kruger, who was a teacher when Reich was making his Masters of Divinity degree, thinks that made Reich regard from his peers in seminary and from NFL gamers today.

“Every time he spoke in chapel, the students really paid attention, and I don’t think it was just because he was a famous football player,” he said. “He had a method of getting in touch with his audience, and bringing the text of the Bible conscious those he was talking to.”

But there were those celebrations when Reich, the 6-foot-4 football gamer, stood high on school no matter how hard he attempted to mix in.

Dr. Rod Culbertson, now the dean of advancement, saw that the day about 20 trainees persuaded Reich to play football.

“One of them, after it was all done, comes in,” Culbertson said. “He was from Buffalo. He states, ‘I captured a goal pass from Frank Reich!”’

DR. RIC CANNADA, who developed the Charlotte Reformed Theological Seminary school in 1993, frequently asked Reich to speak at occasions since he was older and, in some methods, advanced in his understanding of faith than many trainees.

It was throughout vehicle flights to occasions he discovered the qualities he thought made Reich, even as a trainee, the best guy to change him as president in 2003.

“I knew his heart, and I knew he was a leader,” Cannada said.

As president, Reich quickly surrounded himself with older administrators and professors, some of whom had been candidates for the job he got. It was not much different than the way he built his current staff at Carolina with 68-year-old Jim Caldwell (his first boss with the Colts and the first to interview for the Panthers’ head-coaching job that Reich landed this year) and 72-year-old Dom Capers, Carolina’s first coach.

“Guys that have actually been through the wars, they have actually been through the ups and downs, they have actually discovered how to resolve issues, they have actually discovered how to deal with gamers of all types, resolve problems,” Reich said of his Panthers staff. “Guys who understand how to team up together, resolve problems as a personnel, who have a strong conviction however no egos.”

That’s what Reich did in building his first seminary staff.

“What I watched in those early meetings was that he already was a coach,” Culbertson said. “He understood he didn’t understand whatever about everyone’s task, however like a head coach, you need to rely on everyone under you and make them feel valued.”

Frank’s wife, Linda, calls his approach to team building the servant leader (leading with the innate desire to serve his team’s needs), which grew during his time at the seminary.

Reich calls it being smart.

“We’ve all gained from Day 1, when you’re attempting to create a group, attempt to surround yourself with the very best individuals,” he stated.

Caldwell called that servant management something unique. He saw it when Reich joined him in Indianapolis in 2006 and assisted the Colts win Super Bowl XLI with Manning.

“He knows and preaches often that it’s not about him,” Caldwell said. “He understands there’s a larger objective included.”

Reich insists his experience as RTS president — constructing a personnel and dealing with trainees to assist them broaden their doctrinal understanding to possibly end up being pastors — ready him more for being a head coach than anything.

“It was just like being the head coach of a football team,” he said. “Where the gamers are the genuine stars of football, the teachers and trainees are the genuine stars of the seminary.

“The rest of us are just there to bring leadership, to bring a team together around a common mission.”

IN THE SAME way Reich often used football terminology during meetings in seminary, his talks to the football team often are like sermons. He refers to the Bible as his playbook with both.

Culbertson recalled how when recruiting students to seminary as the president, Reich always referred to something former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy said during their time together.

“Whatever we did, Frank stated ‘We win as a group and we lose as a group,”’ he stated.

It wasn’t as simple to utilize scriptural terms with football gamers.

“It’s hard to mention God in meetings when there’s guys of other religious beliefs,” said quarterback PJ Walker, who was with Reich and the Colts in 2018 and 2019. “But you understood where Frank stood and you understood what he thought in. You understood if you wished to go speak to him about things like that, you could.”

That’s another factor he selected seminary over training in 1998.

“I had a desire to not just give a testimony and tell what I’d experienced, but to actually teach or to use football terminology to help coach from the playbook, the Bible, the things that were impacting my life,” Reich said.

Caldwell first noticed that depth with the Colts during Tuesday morning Bible studies when Reich replaced the chaplain.

“You might inform that when Frank had his chance, he wasn’t like the rest people, a newbie because location,” Caldwell stated with a laugh.

Carolina running backs coach Duce Staley, who likewise was a coach with the Eagles when Reich was the offending planner, can’t recite Bible verses, however he comprehended that Reich’s faith sustained his management.

“When Frank spoke, he spoke from the heart and everybody in that Philly organization — everybody — listened,” Staley said. “You hear gamers discuss his management and the guy he is and what he gives the table. That’s his faith. That’s his belief.”

Knowing how crucial a playbook is to a gamer, the depth of Reich’s faith truly struck house to Staley when he heard Reich describe the Bible as his individual playbook.

“As a player, you’ve got to know the playbook like the back of your hand or you can’t play,” Staley said. “That right there, when he states the Bible is his playbook, informs you how well he understands his playbook.”

IN A WORD, it was painful when Reich, then the pastor at Ballantyne Presbyterian, started to feel drawn back to football.

“I didn’t want it to feel like I was quitting the ministry,” Reich said.

Linda added, “It was most likely the hardest choice he’s ever made in his whole life.”

Cannada helped him put it in perspective, reminding him that Reich’s father helped as many or more people as an attorney as he did as a minister.

“Frank knew from the things we taught him at the seminary that he could serve the Lord effectively in coaching,” Cannada said. “So Frank felt comfy in the end.”

Reich, acknowledging how difficult the choice was, stated the option to leave the ministry was eventually “really freeing.”

“To comprehend, no, this wasn’t me giving up the ministry,” Reich stated. “This was me understanding where’s the right place for me to have the biggest impact and do things that are consistent with my faith.”

Former NFL wide receiver Torrey Smith, who played for Reich in Philadelphia in 2017, saw the impact Reich’s faith had on players, regardless of whether they were believers.

“It’s actually who he is and how he lives,” Smith stated. “He’s definitely one of the best men I’ve ever been around. He’s one of the best communicators I’ve ever been around.”

Staley said Reich was the first person he went to for guidance or advice in Philadelphia, just as he was the first he recently went to after the death of his grandmother.

“Frank understands how to assist you make it through it,” Staley stated. “I can’t really explain it. … When you’re a problem solver, in my opinion, you’re a man of faith.”

REICH’S FAITH CAME into play more than ever when the Colts fired him last season, the day after they fell to 3-5-1 with a lopsided 26-3 loss to the New England Patriots.

He’d helped Indianapolis and the Eagles win Super Bowls after being a part of a Buffalo team that lost four straight Super Bowls (1991-94).

Being dismissed was more personal, but to Reich it was another test.

“There was dreadful dissatisfaction when he was fired,” Linda remembered. “Horrible disappointment. And you know, like anything else, we realized God had a plan.”

That plan, which convinced him to pass on coaching Manning, the No. 1 pick in 1998, has come full circle, as he will now coach this year’s top pick, Young.

But to get here, he had to lean on much of what was emphasized at seminary — that in football and life, things don’t always go your way.

It’s why, when Cannada always introduced him as the quarterback of two of the biggest comebacks in college and NFL history, Reich always would respond, “But let me inform you another story.”

Then Reich would share how he and Bills beginning quarterback Jim Kelly belonged to the 1993 group that dedicated a record 9 turnovers in a 52-17 loss to Dallas in Super Bowl XXVII.

“Understanding that, you know, just because you have faith in God, that doesn’t mean everything is going to go perfect,” Reich said. “Sometimes it does not and you get fired.

“But it’s a concern of discovering strength and deal with in those minutes to grow in the knowing and improve from it.”

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