INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The itch was there in 2006, when Frank Reich first dipped his toe in the NFL’s coaching pool.
Brought in by the Indianapolis Colts as an intern following a 14-year playing career and 7-year hiatus during which he focused on his family and obtaining his Master of Divinity degree from the Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., Reich had a long-range goal.
That was to be an NFL head coach, even though he was getting a relatively late start. When the Colts hired him, he was 44.
“It was always a goal,’’ Reich said Wednesday, “but it was never, ‘I’ve got to be that or my life’s not going to be complete.’ It was a goal. It was an ambition, but it wasn’t a do-or-die situation.
“There’s a lot of good coaches in this league. You’re not guaranteed of getting an opportunity. Things fell right for me. I was around some good people and good teams and thankfully it worked out.’’
The NFL coaching ladder is about being patient, networking and, most important, being in the right place at the right time.
After six seasons in Indy, Reich spent a season with the Arizona Cardinals and three with the San Diego Chargers, the final two as offensive coordinator. When Doug Pederson was named head coach in Philadelphia in 2016, he brought in Reich as his offensive coordinator.
On Feb. 4, Pederson, Reich and the Eagles ascended to the top of the NFL world. They won a shootout with the New England Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl LII.
A week later and after Patriots’ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels abruptly reneged on an agreement to fill the Colts’ coaching vacancy, the Colts turned to Reich.
Reich and Pederson developed and maintain a close relationship. At some point Sunday at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field – before the Colts and Eagles get down to business – they’ll find each other on the field, embrace and reminisce.
“I’m as close with Doug as I am with anybody in this profession,’’ Reich said. “I just think the world of him.’’
On one level it was difficult to exit Philadelphia, which had just hoisted the Lombardi Trophy and would be getting franchise quarterback Carson Wentz back this season after he suffered a season-ending knee injury in December.
“It was bittersweet in that (I had) such a great experience there, such a good relationship with everyone there,’’ Reich said.
The opportunity, though, was too great to pass up. Reich was 56, and the timing and relocation site were perfect.
“There’s only 32 of these things and if it’s a goal and it’s an aspiration, you’ve got to seize the moment, especially because it was Indy,’’ he said. “Especially because it was Indy.
“I knew this city. I knew some of the players (and) getting the chance to come and coach Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle, thinking from an offensive coach’s standpoint.
“From that regard it was an easy decision.’’
Reich’s path to being a head coach was a 12-year journey, which pales in comparison to some in the profession.
Remember Bruce Arians? He was an NFL assistant for 25 seasons, including four years in two stints with the Colts, before getting his first shot with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013. At age 61. Dick LeBeau served as an NFL assistant for 27 seasons before being taking over as Cincinnati’s interim head coach in 2000 and being given the title in ’01. He was 62.
“I think I was at a spot in my career where at 56 years old . . . if an opportunity had come up I would assess it at the time but more than likely take it because you’re not guaranteed another one,’’ Reich said.
Pederson noted there probably were several factors that steered Reich’s journey from Colts’ coaching intern to Colts’ head coach, and took as long as it did.
“But sometimes it’s just timing and going to the right team,’’ he said. “Sometimes it’s not always the right situation for you or your family and you just never know what is going on.
“This was definitely a great opportunity for him and his family. He has familiarity with the Colts having worked there previously. It was a really good fit going to a team that has a good quarterback, an established quarterback and that is exactly what Frank was looking for and I’m excited that he got the opportunity.’’
Eagles input, to a point
Reich has deep knowledge of the Eagles’ offense after serving as coordinator the past two seasons. It’s only natural he’s shared his insight with first-year defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.
“He hasn’t said one word to me about it,’’ Eberflus said facetiously. “Yeah, we have had a couple of conversations.’’
Reich insisted he hasn’t been overbearing. It’s worth noting Eberflus also is familiar with the Eagles offense after serving as a defensive assistant with the Dallas Cowboys the past seven seasons.
“Flus and I had a conversation or two, nothing too dramatic. A few things here and there,’’ Reich said. “Not anything that would be over the top. My experience is if you try to say too much, it just confuses the matter.
“You give a few personnel things, a few philosophical things, maybe one or two things to look for. Then you let our defense play the way we’re playing. It’s about what we do.’’
The Colts can anticipate a noisy working environment Sunday. That’s normally the case at The Linc, but the return of quarterback Carson Wentz figures to amp things up even more. Wentz will make his first appearance of the season after suffering a season-ending knee injury in December.
“It’s going to be an electric atmosphere,’’ Reich said. “Carson’s a rising young superstar in this league. That city has really embraced him. He’s embraced the city.
“It’ll be like when Andrew ran out here.’’
Luck received a thunderous ovation Sept. 9 at Lucas Oil Stadium when the Colts opened the season against Cincinnati. It was his first appearance in 20 months.
Eight Colts were held out of Wednesday’s practice, all of them starters or front-liners: offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo (hamstring), wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (quadricep), tight end Jack Doyle (hip), safety Clayton Geathers (knee/elbow), defensive tackle Denico Autry (ankle), running back Marlon Mack (foot/hamstring), defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway (calf) and cornerback Quincy Wilson (concussion).
Offensive tackle Denzelle Good (knee/wrist) returned to practice on a limited basis.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.