INDIANAPOLIS – This wasn’t how Frank Reich expected to be spending his Tuesday afternoon.
Not packing up with his wife, Linda, and driving to North Carolina to visit their children and grandchildren. Not taking forced time to decompress and wonder how everything went so wrong.
He expected to be preparing the next offensive game plan for the next opponent, which is the Las Vegas Raiders.
That changed – his immediate future was turned upside-down – with a Monday morning phone call from Jim Irsay.
“At about 10:45,’’ Reich said.
They talked – Reich mostly listened – and Irsay informed his head coach he was being fired after four-plus seasons. The news came less than 24 hours after Reich’s Colts were overwhelmed by the New England Patriots 26-3. Irsay wasn’t available for a face-to-face, so the two are expected to get together in the next few weeks.
Irsay insisted at a Monday evening press conference he had no choice but to part with Reich, especially after Jeff Saturday agreed to step in as interim coach. The owner believed his team was collapsing.
“I’ve seen things go from bad to worse and I thought it was time and it was necessary to make the change,’’ he said.
Reich wouldn’t address whether he saw it coming, even with the three-game losing streak, the 3-5-1 record and his offense’s continued inefficiency.
“I don’t know what to say about that,’’ Reich said. “I felt certain things, but I try to have blinders on and just go get prepared and go try to win the next game.’’
Now, there’s not a next game to worry about. That suddenness gnawed at Reich.
“There’s disappointment and hurt,’’ he said. “It hurts. It hurts to have it happen in the middle of the season.
“But I understand the business side of things. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mr. Irsay and I’ve come to trust his instincts and his knowledge of the game. I just know he’s doing what he thinks is best for the team.
“I can live with that. I gave my heart and soul to the job, to the guys, to everything I did there. I didn’t take anything for granted.’’
Reich and the Colts entered this season with increased optimism even though 2021 ended with closing losses against the Raiders and at Jacksonville that snuffed out their playoff hopes and led to an offseason of change. Irsay was the catalyst as Carson Wentz was jettisoned after one season. That was followed by the addition of Matt Ryan, Stephon Gimore and Yannick Ngakoue.
“I don’t apologize for the high expectations because I really do believe the makings of a championship team are there,’’ Reich said. “Does that mean all of the pieces are there? No, it doesn’t mean that.
“But I’ve been on a team that’s won a championship and I just believe it’s there.’’
The current offensive deficiencies are impossible to ignore and were the flashpoints for Irsay: 32nd in points (14.7 per game), 27th in total yards (315.1), 30th in yards per play (4.8), 30th in rushing (86.7), and on and on. The 121 total yards in the loss to the Patriots were the fewest since 1997, while the 0-for-14 on third-down conversions was the worst in franchise history and second-worst in NFL history. If the 14.7 per-game scoring average stands, it will be the team’s worst since 1993 (10.5).
The stunning regression of the NFL’s highest-paid offensive line – roughly $42 million against the salary cap, with most funneled to Quenton Nelson, Braden Smith and Ryan Kelly – has proven too much to overcome, whether it’s in pass protection (a league-high 35 sacks allowed), run blocking or simple play-calling. Everyone anticipated the offseason departures of tight end Jack Doyle, guards Mark Glowinski and Chris Reed and tackle Eric Fisher would be felt, but to this degree?
However, this stretch of futility is in stark contrast to Reich’s first four seasons.
“Proud of what we did,’’ he said.
From 2018-21, Reich’s offense ranked 11th in points (26.1), 11th in total yards (359.5), 15th in passing with five different opening-day starting quarterbacks (230.5) and 5th in rushing (129.0). It was tied-1st in fewest sacks allowed (103) and 9th in fewest turnovers (79).
He exits with a 41-35-1 record – that includes 1-2 in two playoff appearances – but regrets his Colts failed to win the AFC South and never were in position to seriously challenge for a world championship.
“To fall short of those goals of winning championships, starting with a world championship, is very disappointing when you’re the head coach,’’ Reich said. “You have mixed emotions. You feel like, ‘OK, there were different circumstances and dynamics and challenges that you faced.’ But as a coach and as a player and as a competitor, you say, ‘That doesn’t matter. We’ve still gotta obtain our goals.’
“When Mr. Irsay and Chris (Ballard) hired me, I had no misrepresentations. Those were the expectations.’’
Another expectation: a much longer tenure with the Colts.
“The lifespan of a coach, sometimes you want it to be 10, 20 years. That doesn’t happen very often,’’ Reich said, who in 2021 was given an extension through 2026. “But that was my aim. My goal was to be here 10, 12 years and retire with a championship or two.
“But proud of what we did, probably as proud of the culture that Chris and I helped create. We knew the kind of players we wanted on the team, and that came to fruition that was very positive for the team and the community.’’
From a personal standpoint, Reich and his wife established the kNot Today Foundation, which is committed to preventing child abuse and the exploitation of children.
“We gave back to the community,’’ he said, “and we’ll try to continue to do that even though our time is over there.’’
So, now what? After spending quality time with the kids and grandkids, that is. Reich already has sought the counsel of a few long-time NFL colleagues.
“The two people I spoke with advised me to ‘Take two, three weeks, go see the kids and grandkids, just decompress with Linda and relax,’’’ he said. “I’ll take a couple of weeks and decompress and take notes about what I’d do differently. You know, ‘What did I learn? What can I do better.’’’
That’s because Reich, 60, loves the NFL too much for Indy to be his final job.
“I think you keep all your options open,’’ he said. “Obviously my desire is to be a head coach. I love the game. I love everything about the game, so you keep all of your options open.’’
Wherever that next step comes in Reich’s coaching career, he’ll always carry his Indy experience with him.
“It’s hard to get fired and walk away with a great attitude and being very thankful, and I can tell you all I feel is love and respect for the Irsays, for Chris Ballard, for the team,’’ he said. “Yeah, I hurt from the results of this year. But I at least have the maturity and perspective to look at the big picture.
“I put everything I had into it. Then when it’s over, you’re thankful for it – the experience, the relationships – but in this profession we all understand you’ve got to move on. The great thing is you don’t lose those relationships. I’ll never lose the relationship I have with Chris, with the players on that team, with the Irsays.
“It was a great experience.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.