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Three Lessons Learned From My Time in Indianapolis

Frank Reich was fired as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts in early November. This is Part 1 of a two-part series in which Reich shares three lessons he learned during his time in Indianapolis.

>> Part 2: Preparing for Next Opportunity

The first two weeks after I was fired by the Colts were kind of rough. My wife, Linda, and I got away for a couple of days just to decompress a little bit. Then, I sat down with our children, who are all adults now, to help them process through it. They had never seen me go through anything like this before, where it was such a public spectacle.

But it isn’t long before you’re stepping forward to the next chapter, where you’re starting to watch some tape again, starting to write down notes. When you start doing that, it brings the energy and excitement back. I have a sheet of paper with the lessons I’ve learned.

As I reflect on my time with the Colts, I would point to three key lessons:

1. Stay Involved in Every Aspect of the Team

I was hired because I had success as an offensive coordinator. But when the Colts hired me, I was no longer the quarterbacks coach or the offensive coordinator. I was the head coach. But as an offensive-minded coach, I had something to offer Matt Eberflus, our defensive coordinator through my first four seasons with the Colts, and Gus Bradley, our defensive coordinator this season.

In the first year and a half, I didn’t do as well as I could have. After that, I thought Matt and I really connected, and we had a strong relationship that grew during our four years together. That made it even better when Gus Bradley came in this year. Gus is such a good defensive coordinator, and I knew his vision, but I was able to contribute a little bit to that by saying, “Hey, here’s a couple of things that give us problems on offense. Could we tweak one or two things?”

I can keep learning from a defensive standpoint and keep contributing that way as well by getting in meetings with defensive players, and keep connecting with them besides devoting time to the quarterbacks and the offense. 

Every head coach will tell you there are going to be 10 things that come on your desk every day that you didn’t anticipate and can eat away your time. So, you have to be hyper-organized and disciplined in your schedule to devote attention to other places.

2. Manage Expectations

We all have high expectations, and I think at times that got out of control because we had a unique environment where we got a different quarterback every year, but we had a good roster. 

Every team is going into the season thinking they’re winning the Super Bowl. But Marv Levy and Tony Dungy used to say, “Our expectation is really about how we practice. Our expectation is more around the process.” That was something that, as time went on, we really started emphasizing. But it doesn’t come naturally because there’s this gravitational pull that says, “Everything’s about winning! You’ve got to win the championship!” You’ve got to believe in that, but I feel like we can always do a better job of managing expectations.

3. Build Staff With Diverse Leadership Styles

We had a unique situation where there were a couple of years I lost coordinators and other assistant coaches whom I allowed to go with them at times. I take a lot of pride in the fact that every coach that was hired, I felt, was an “A” coach. But now coaches start to leave, and what’s really important is the chemistry of the coaches on your staff. You don’t want every coach on your staff to be a yeller and a screamer. You also don’t want every coach on your staff to be kind of low-key. There’s got to be that right mix.

So, as coaches are leaving, you’re always trying to maintain the right mix of personalities and leadership styles within the staff. As the head coach, you are the leader, but it’s not a one-man show. The staff has to continue to lead.

That dynamic is as equally important as it is to how good of a coach they are at their position.

Frank Reich was head coach of the Colts from 2018 until his dismissal on Nov. 7, 2022. On the way to a record of 40-33, Reich led Indianapolis to two playoff appearances. Reich played quarterback in the NFL for 13 years, then began a coaching career that included stints as offensive coordinator of the Chargers and Eagles. He helped Philadelphia win a Super Bowl in the 2017 season.

As told to Vic Carucci

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