Frank Reich didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. For a decade, he was immersed in spreading Christianity and making an impact on the lives of others. He took the steps to become a pastor before backing away in 2008. He didn’t lose faith or make a mistake or anything. He simply realized it wasn’t his calling.
Reich will remain involved in ministry, just as he was when he backed up Jim Kelly during the Bills’ glory days. Reich concluded another vocation awaited him, one that would lead him back to another love. It had been there all along, in the back of his mind, tugging at him and whispering in his ear.
At his core, Reich is a teacher. It’s in his DNA. His parents taught in public schools in Lebanon, Pa., where his father was a longtime successful football coach. His younger brother is a college coach. Anyone who crossed paths with Reich knew he was destined to pass along lessons in one form or another.
“I think I was raised to be a teacher,” Reich said by telephone Thursday from San Diego. “Teaching is my primary passion. But if you’re going to teach, you have to know something to teach. Well, there are only two things I knew I could teach. One was the Bible, and the other was football.
Reich, after putting down the Good Book and picking up his playbook, was named offensive coordinator of the Chargers. He replaced Ken Whisenhunt, who left to become head coach in Tennessee. Reich was a natural choice to take over Tuesday after serving as quarterbacks coach and helping Philip Rivers to one of his best seasons.
“I’ll continue to do ministry,” Reich said. “I don’t stop doing that, but my competence is in football. I love the game.”
The promotion came six years after Reich started coaching, a quick ascension in NFL ranks until you realize he’s been mentoring quarterbacks for a quarter century or longer. His relationship with Chargers GM Tom Telesco, a Hamburg native and former Bills intern, goes back to the early 1990s.
Reich is largely known for the Bills’ comeback against Houston in 1993, when he threw four second-half touchdown passes and led them to victory after trailing, 35-3, at halftime. It was the greatest comeback in NFL history, but that was one game. His work over a decade was appreciated more along One Bills Drive.
See, Reich was one of the brains behind the K-Gun, the no-huddle offense that the Bills rode to four straight Super Bowl appearances. Kelly built his Hall of Fame career with the offense, but Reich knew more about the attack than Kelly did. He was Kelly’s friend and confidant and, in many ways, his coach.
“When you’re talking about putting the offense down on paper and explaining it, Frank knew everything,” former special teams ace and wide receiver Steve Tasker said. “Jim was the player, and Frank was the thinker. That’s the way their relationship worked. Frank knew how to play, too, don’t get me wrong. He was an invaluable asset for Jim, and Jim would tell you the same thing.
“Frank was the perfect complement to Jim because he was a great communicator. Him and Jim were very close friends, and he could say things to Jim that other people would shy away from. To Jim’s credit, he listened. Frank was able to coach him the way a coach needed to coach. They were very blunt with each other.”
Reich spent 10 years with the Bills, nine while backing up Kelly, before he signed with the expansion Charlotte Panthers and became a starter. He played only four seasons after leaving Buffalo and retired after the 1998 season. Twenty years have passed since the Bills made their last march to the Super Bowl, and the same skills still apply.
He had coaching opportunities when his career ended, but he was determined to spend more time with wife, Linda, and their three daughters. He wanted to be there to take them to school and see their swimming meets. He continued working in the ministry and eventually realized it was not part of his long-term plan.
“Football was always in the back of my mind,” Reich said. “It was always a possibility.”
In 2008, Bill Polian hired him to work with – where do I sign up? – Peyton Manning. The two had a very good relationship and learned from one another. Reich coached wide receivers in Arizona before he was dismissed with Whisenhunt, who took Reich with him when he was named offensive coordinator in 2013.
His resume doesn’t reveal how much he inspires people. Reich is one of the classiest, most selfless people you’ll find in professional sports. His calm demeanor has a way of balancing strong, demonstrative players like Kelly and Rivers. If Kelly was among the best players in Buffalo, Reich was one of the most beloved.
They were polar opposites during their playing days. Kelly’s arrogance and boisterousness made him a Hall of Fame player. Reich was quiet and unassuming, and that worked for him. Kelly was the guy you wanted backing you up in a street fight. Reich was the guy you wanted dating your sister.
Reich’s new gig makes for a strange dynamic.
The offensive coordinator is one of the least-favorite people in any football town. He knows he will be second-guessed, and his decisions will be scrutinized. But it’s tough to criticize a man like him. It’s like ripping Mother Teresa or Santa Claus. You can’t help but pull for the guy because he’s such a good human being.
At times, perhaps because he’s short on ego and long on class, or maybe because he’s friendly, or even because he’s a devout Christian, he has been perceived as passive or less competitive. People shouldn’t get the wrong idea about that, either. He’s obsessed with winning, and he’ll do whatever he can to help the Chargers.
Nice guys can finish first.
That’s now his life’s work.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, as far as competitiveness, I’m an 11,” Reich said. “I’ve always been a passionate and intense person. Anyone who has been around me know I can talk. I like to talk because I like to teach. I have very strong convictions. When I find something I believe in, I’m not going to be passive. In ministry, that’s what I do. As a football coach, that’s what I do.”