Frank Reich’s time with the Colts could have started much earlier as Manning’s QB coach in ’98

Peyton Manning in '98 preseason game (John Rothroff/AFP/Getty Images) and Frank Reich as a Colts coach in 2009 (NFL Photos)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Things could have evolved so much differently, and quickly, for Frank Reich.

An association with the Indianapolis Colts that began in 2006 as a volunteer assistant on Tony Dungy’s staff and was rekindled when he was named head coach in February 2018 could have started in 1998.

As quarterbacks coach for an incoming rookie: Peyton Manning.

That was one of the career tidbits Reich shared during a charity event Friday at Sun King Brewery. It was hosted by NBC Sports’ Peter King and benefited locally-based Ascent 121, which aids survivors of commercial sexual exploitation.

It was 1998 and Reich’s 13-year NFL career was winding down. He got a call from Colts general manager Bill Polian. They had developed and maintained a close relationship during their time together with the Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers.

“I got a call from Bill Polian saying, ‘Hey, would you come and work for me here in Indianapolis?’” Reich shared. “The draft wasn’t yet but they were getting ready. He was getting ready to draft a pretty good player. He said, ‘I want you to come here and be (Manning’s) quarterback coach.’

“This is a 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.'”

It was an attractive offer, but one Reich obviously declined. He had three young daughters – ages 8, 6 and 2 – and was committed to being around for their formative years.

“It was really tempting with Mr. Polian telling me this because there was no one I respected more than Bill Polian in football,” Reich said. “But the reality was, it was at that time I just had to make a decision. As much as I wanted to be a head coach, wanted to work for Bill Polian, I also wanted 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 did all of those things until 2006, when the opportunity again presented itself, this time as volunteer assistant on Dungy’s staff.

“I thought it was going to be a couple of years, but it really turned out to be about seven or eight,” Reich said. “I always knew in the back on my mind I thought I’d come back to coaching. And then, 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. I knew it was time.

“But I knew this time I was going to have to go the long road. I was a little worried they were going to say the game had passed this old man by. I called up Bill Polian and he said, ‘Absolutely.”’

Polian stressed Reich would occupy an entry-level position on Dungy’s staff. He volunteered for six months, without pay. The Colts picked up his living expenses.

“Started out at the bottom and then just slowly worked my way up, thinking it might not ever happen,” Reich said.

He spent six seasons with the Colts before being named receivers coach with the Arizona Cardinals in 2012. Reich was with the San Diego Chargers from 2013-15 and was offensive coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016-17 before succeeding Chuck Pagano in Indy in 2018.

“I can honestly say that never one time did I ever regret that decision that I made,” he said. “I knew when I made the decision in ’98 not to get into it right away that I was potentially giving that up. I say all that to say 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 my family, it was like literally a dream come true.

“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.”

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

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