A razor-sharp focus on the moment, with a keen eye on the future, and constantly searching for creative ways to improve. That’s how you construct an NFL program.
It’s also a great way to build a professional football career.
Frank Reich is about to embark on his 31st NFL season. Following 14 years as a player and 11 as an NFL assistant coach, the Lebanon native is entering his initial season as the Carolina Panthers head coach, after serving a similar role in Indianapolis for five campaigns.
Safe to say that Reich has seen some things and learned some things along the way. He enjoyed some amazing accomplishments as a player, he won a Super Bowl as an assistant and more importantly he has self-actualized as both a coach and a human being.
“That’s always the challenge,” said Reich, during an exclusive interview with LebTown. “I think sometimes people think it’s either/or – you’ve got to go all-in for the long haul or you’ve got to go all-in for winning now. I’ve just always thought you could do both or that you have to have that healthy tension. You’ve got to have a sense of urgency building the roster and you’ve got to have a sense of urgency with how we game plan and put things together.
“You’ve got to be willing to take some risks and be aggressive,” continued Reich. “But at the same time, you’ve got to be thinking long term. We want to build that sustainable winner. If you go all-in on one season and you fall short of what you want, you can set your team back for five years. The better approach is to set yourself up for sustainable success and be ready to make moves when you’re in striking distance, when momentum is on your side. Hopefully in those years, it’s good enough to win it all.”
Reich and his Panthers will open their 2023 campaign on Sunday when they travel to Atlanta for an NFC South Division clash with the Falcons. But Reich is not the only fresh face in Carolina, as this season’s roster includes a lot of new players, including the top overall selection from this year’s NFL draft, Bryce Young.
With that freshness comes hope, and challenges.
“We’re definitely ready for Week One,” said Reich. “We had a very productive training camp. You want to make progress. We’re a new coaching staff and a young team. There was a big turnover on the roster.
“It’s an exciting process,” said Reich. “In this business, like any business, you continue to learn and grow. I just feel like as a coach and a head coach, every year is a new opportunity to learn and get better. Now, being here in Charlotte with the Panthers, I feel like it’s a tremendous opportunity.”
On November 7 of last year, Indianapolis fired Reich after the Colts started the season 3-5-1. During his tenure with the Colts, the former Cedar Crest star went 40-33-1 overall as the Colts’ head coach and led Indianapolis to the playoffs twice.
In January, Reich landed on his feet as the new head coach of the Panthers.
“My time in Indianapolis was a tremendous experience,” said Reich, 61. “I’m going to be forever grateful to (Colt’s owner, Jim) Mr. Irsay for the opportunity to be a head coach, and forever grateful to the coaches and players who you get really close with. You love those guys. I’ll always feel that bond and connection with those players and that team.
“In the NFL, it’s a hard business,” Reich continued. “Transition is inevitable, for the most part. It’s just part of the NFL experience. You use those opportunities to learn and get better. I never really considered retiring. There’s too much gas left in the tank, fire in the stomach – just for competing at the highest level and for being part of something special.”
Last season, Carolina went 7-10 and finished in a tie for second place in the NFC South, just a game behind division winner Tampa Bay. Despite their fresh start, qualifying for the playoffs this season doesn’t seem like a far-fetched notion for Reich’s Panthers.
“We’re like every team,” said Reich. “Every team has a goal to win their division and win the Super Bowl. All 32 teams have the same goal. What differentiates teams is how they go about it. We tend to focus on expectations around process, how we work together, a sense of urgency and being very intentional about how we use our time every day to get better. We want to execute our scheme better, become closer as a team and do what it takes to play winning football.”
Reich, Young and their relationship represent the future of the Carolina Panthers. Developing a young talent like Young is a task for which Reich’s personality, character and demeanor is well suited.
“It’s a great opportunity, it’s a great joy and great challenge,” said Reich. “Bryce is a quality, quality person and player. Even though I’m much older and have many years of experience, what I’ve learned over the years is that this will be a two-way street. I will certainly have a chance to impart some things on him as an older veteran coach and player.
“In that quarterback room, we will mentor him and help him grow,” Reich added. “But we are also going to learn from him as well. I’m not saying this is a 50-50 thing. It’s 50-50 as far as love and respect, wanting to get better and working through what we’re going to do as a team and what we’re going to do as an offense. I think most coaches will tell you one of the keys to their success is what they’ve learned from players, young and old.”
Frank Reich was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the third round of the 1985 NFL draft. During his playing and coaching days, he has been affiliated with eight NFL franchises.
“Thirty-one years has been a tremendous experience,” said Reich. “You learn so much. There’s something about putting yourself in a fire, in a business where you’re one of 32 teams trying to be the best in the world. There’s no place to hide. You’ve got to put yourself out there. You’ve got to be willing to fail. My experiences have come doing it with the right people, doing it the right way. There’s nothing like it.
“You have success by being surrounded by good people, coaches, players and ownership,” concluded Reich. “It’s a big mountain to climb. You can’t do it by yourself. I just feel like I’ve been very blessed and fortunate to be surrounded by good people.”
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