Eagles-Colts: Reich Returns with Winning on His Mind
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Familiarity is becoming a bit of a theme early in the season for the reigning Super Bowl champions.
Last week the Eagles renewed acquaintances with Vinny Curry and Beau Allen in Tampa. This time around it's the guy who knows where all the bones are buried in Doug Pederson's offense, the coach's friend and former offensive coordinator Frank Reich, now the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.
Reich had quite the February earlier this year, first finishing up his integral part in the organization's run toward a Super Bowl LII championship and then finding himself on a plane set to come full circle in his coaching career.
The long-time Jim Kelly backup in Buffalo started his coaching sojourn with the Colts as an intern under Hall of Fame mentor Tony Dungy in 2006 before slowing rising up the ranks.
By the time he left Indy in 2012 Reich had also handled receivers and quarterbacks, a fast track that ultimately led him to coordinator jobs in San Diego and Philadelphia before the opportunity at the big chair came after Josh McDaniels left the Colts at the altar.
"It all happened kind of fast," Reich said during a conference call with Philadelphia-area media on Wednesday. "Enjoyed the celebration after [the Super Bowl], came back Monday, and then really, I think I got the call Tuesday night from [Colts general manager] Chris Ballard ... and was excited to come in and interview."
Known as a QB guru and the steady hand in Pederson's ear who often tempered the ultra-aggressive Eagles coach Reich went from one big talented signal caller to another trading Carson Wentz for Andrew Luck, a No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft for No. 1 overall in 2012.
Both quarterbacks are also coming off extensive rehabs: Wentz from a torn ACL and LCL and Luck from a labrum issue in his shoulder.
“They’re both incredibly dynamic players,” Reich said. “Physically dominant at their positions. Elite in their leadership ability. Elite intelligence. Just rare for a guy to have all those attributes and I think they both do. When Carson came out, Andrew was the one guy who I thought that there were some parallels there.
“So, it’s just interesting now in their journeys they both have had to overcome a serious injury and that, I think, makes great players better. It stinks going through it but in the long run it makes you better.”
Sunday's game is no grudge match because Reich is so well-respected at the NovaCare Complex.
"I think it's not uncommon to go against friends, and I will go on the record with Frank. I think Frank is one of the best guys I've ever met in this business," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "I don't know if you guys share that same opinion, but just an absolute gem of a man. I really admire him, and he did a great job for us here."
“During training camp, we talked a lot, actually,” Pederson added. “Whether it be asking me a question on how we ran a practice or a meeting or a schedule. Whatever it was, we were constantly talking. … It'll be fun to see him again.”
There is business to take care of, however, and the pleasantries can wait until after 60 minutes of football.
The Colts were 4-12 last season without Luck. Both the Eagles and Indy are 1-1 early this season after the Colts stopped Washington in Week 2 and the Eagles tripped against the Bucs.
Philadelphia still has the bigger reputation, however, and the Eagles recent dominance at home along with Wentz returning to the lineup have some positioning Indianapolis as a speed bump.
"I know the environment is going to be electric, just how things are there, certainly with Carson coming back," Reich acknowledged. "So I'm looking forward to that, it'll be a good challenge for our team and then personally, obviously, it was a special experience there for two years. Really, this is the kind of situation where you've got to have the maturity to say this is unique and special in some ways. And then at the same time, it's just the next opponent, it's just the next game."
The familiarity has been a big topic around the NCC this week but both sides admit that's a little overplayed.
"We turn over a significant amount of our defense on a yearly basis," Schwartz said. "He goes in, I'm sure he's taken some parts of what we ran here, and he has a whole bunch of different coaches, people with different backgrounds that are bringing in different things, a completely different skill set for different players. So it's not going to look like a training camp practice from last year."
Reich offered a similar take.
"I really don't think it's as much of an advantage as some people might think,'' Reich explained. "I didn't spend hours with our defense trying to explain every nuance of the offense and what coach Pederson and coach [Mike] Groh [the new offensive coordinator] and [offensive line] coach [Jeff] Stoutland are trying to do.
"I talked about some of the players. I talked a little bit about a few philosophical things. But my experience over and over again being in these situations is that it usually is overplayed. You give a couple of nuggets [of information] and then you go play ball.''
Pederson made it clear, however, the Eagles are aware of Reich's expertise in what they do,
"We're aware of it. You watch them on offense and there is a lot of similarity, too. So, we kind of have an idea of some of the offensive structure that they have in place," the Eagles mentor said. "And defensively their coordinator [Matt Eberflus] came from Dallas. So, there is a little bit of the Dallas influence in this defense as well. We feel like they know us and we know them, even though we don't see each other every year."
The difference figures to be talent but Reich doesn't want to hear anything about the "R" word. He's out to win.
"As a coach rebuild is not in your vocabulary," he insisted. "... I think Doug has one thing on his mind, and that’s how to win this game and And it’s the same thing we have on our mind.”
973espn.com Prediction: Eagles 24, Colts 14
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen