INDIANAPOLIS — The first five minutes of Frank Reich’s Monday news conference should be required viewing for football fans.
The Indianapolis Colts head coach gave a rare peek inside the team’s meeting room and in the process revealed more than a few hints at the leadership style that has connected so deeply with his players.
It was a tough assignment.
Reich was attempting to calm the nerves of a fan base — and in many ways a state — rocked by the sudden retirement Saturday night of franchise icon Andrew Luck.
At the same time he was projecting the team’s excitement for the future, Reich had to show proper deference for everything the former quarterback meant to the Colts.
Fortunately, he’s a gifted communicator who put those skills to use as a professional quarterback and a pastor before becoming a coach.
Some of all three shined through during the speech.
“One last thing, as far as Andrew is concerned,” Reich said near the mid-point of his address. “Make no mistake about it. We know this guy isn’t done climbing mountains. He’s very talented. This is just a new beginning and a new chapter for him. Can you imagine if he inspired millions of kids to learn how to read? How would that mountain be to climb?
“But, also, let me assure Colts fans of this. This team is not done climbing. In fact, we’re just getting ready. We’re just getting started, and we can’t wait.”
And just like that, the page was turned.
The players heard the speech early in the morning when they reported for their first day of work after Luck’s stunning announcement.
By Tuesday, it was business as usual at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. In no small part due to Reich.
“He just relates to us,” wide receiver Chester Rogers said. “He’s been in the building. He’s been here before. He’s played the sport, and he just cares, man. He’s genuine about his job. I think everybody can relate to him in that sense.”
In a strange cosmic coincidence, Reich’s past perfectly prepared him for this test.
Even though he wasn’t supposed to be in this role to begin with.
His first big challenge as a head coach was erasing the stigma of being the second choice. New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels infamously backed out of an agreement to take the job just five days before Reich was hired in February 2017.
Reich deftly defused that controversy in his introductory news conference, noting he’s always excelled as Plan B.
The majority of Reich’s 14 NFL seasons were spent as Jim Kelly’s primary backup with the Buffalo Bills. His most famous moment came in January 1993 when he rallied the Bills from a 38-3 deficit to knock off the Houston Oilers in a wild-card playoff game. It’s still the largest postseason comeback in league history.
Later, as the offensive coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles, he had to help navigate the transition to backup quarterback Nick Foles when starter Carson Wentz went down with a knee injury late in the regular season.
Foles led a remarkable playoff run, and the Eagles defeated the Patriots to win Super Bowl LII just weeks before Reich was hired in Indianapolis.
He can draw on each of those experiences as he negotiates the latest obstacle in the road.
“I think it helps inform me,” Reich said. “There’s no doubt, and we all have to play to our own experiences and our own strengths. I think that helps me. But, at the same time, I don’t want to overplay it. It’s about the team, and I’m one person in that wheel.
“… It ultimately comes down to the locker room. It ultimately comes down to their belief in each other, in every player on that offense, on that defense and on our special teams units.”
The Colts feel as though they’re on the right track in that regard.
Reich referred to quarterback Jacoby Brissett, defensive end Justin Houston, linebacker Darius Leonard and left guard Quenton Nelson when he spoke of the locker-room leaders the players will need to lean on.
As important as the head coach’s leadership will be over the next few months, he said the team can not get where it needs to go without the players following their peers.
The process already is in motion with each leader showing the way in deeds that fit his individual personality. Even an absent former leader continues to have an impact on the locker room.
“Andrew wouldn’t want us to sit around and sob and be sad about it,” Rogers said. “So we have to start quick and (have) a next-man-up type of mindset.”
Reich will be available to any player who needs him every step of the way.
It’s how he won over the locker room so quickly upon his arrival last year.
It’s how he calmed the seas during a 1-5 start that threatened to unravel his debut season.
And it’s how he’ll get through this most recent crisis.
Leadership comes in many forms. Some are taught. Some are created.
Reich’s never known any other role in life.
“Frank’s just a kind of an even-keel type of guy,” kicker Adam Vinatieri said. “He doesn’t get too fired up on certain situations and doesn’t get low on other situations. He stays real level and keeps us all focused and moving in the right direction.”