Frank Reich

Colts head coach Frank Reich watches the pregame festivities prior to kickoff against the Jaguars on Nov. 11 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS — Frank Reich wasn't even part of the Colts' initial head coaching search last offseason.

Now, he's the AFC's Coach of the Year.

The first-year Indianapolis leader was honored Thursday by NFL 101 — a collection of 101 members of the national media. Reich is the sixth Colts head coach to win the award, joining Ron Meyer (1987), Jim Mora (1999), Tony Dungy (2005) and Chuck Pagano/Bruce Arians (2012).

Indianapolis became the third team to overcome a 1-5 start and make the playoffs — joining Kansas City (2015) and Cincinnati (1970) — and just the second to win a postseason game.

“I just couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams how this year was,” Reich said. “We talked about climbing the mountain and one of the things that I was reminded of this year — believe me when you climb the mountain you are climbing it for one reason, to get to the top, to get to the top of the mountain. But it’s all about the climb, man. It’s all about the climb.”

The climb included a four-game winning streak to end the season that culminated with a 33-17 win at Tennessee that clinched the AFC's final playoff berth.

The Colts then went on the road to beat Houston 21-7 in the wild-card round before losing in the divisional playoffs at Kansas City, 31-13.

Along the way, Indianapolis won nine of its final 10 regular-season games and sent three players to Sunday's Pro Bowl — quarterback Andrew Luck, left guard Quenton Nelson and tight end Eric Ebron.

Reich called the plays for an offense that finished fifth in the league in scoring at 27.1 points per game. The defense finished 10th with a scoring average of 21.5, making Indianapolis one of just four teams to finish in the top 10 on both sides of the ball.

All of it came after a bizarre coaching search that saw Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels back out of a verbal agreement to take the job just a day before a scheduled press conference to announce his hiring.

Reich wasn't among the six candidates reportedly interviewed in the initial round. But it didn't take general manager Chris Ballard long to decide he was the right man for the job the second time around.

About 30 minutes into the interview, Ballard was kicking himself for not considering the former Eagles offensive coordinator earlier in the process.

The fit between Reich and Indianapolis was tight from the start. His coaching career started in the city as an intern under Tony Dungy in 2006, and he also coached wide receivers and quarterbacks on the staff through 2011.

Upon his return, Reich promised an exciting brand of football that would make the city and its fans proud. And he mostly delivered.

But the process wasn't without its bumps.

In fact, Ballard knew he had the right man for the job after one of the season's lowest points.

Reich infamously decided to go for it on fourth-and-5 near midfield late in an overtime period against the Texans in Week 4. Luck's pass fell incomplete, and Houston quickly drove for the game-winning field goal.

The loss dropped the Colts to 1-3, but Reich stood solidly behind his call.

As the head coach explained his philosophy and defended his decision in the postgame press conference, he revealed his true character to his new boss and the players in the locker room.

“A lot of people get up when things don’t go their way and they try to spin it,” Ballard said. “You know, they try to spin it and not own it. I knew from that point on that he had the locker room. He had them because he believed in them and he supported them and he took the bullet for them. That’s a beautiful thing, man. That is a unique thing in our profession. It just is.

“Look, sometimes God does things for you that you don’t deserve, and I feel very fortunate that Frank is here.”

THB sports editor George Bremer has covered the Indianapolis Colts since 2010. He occasionally sports a beard that can rival Andrew Luck's, but he lacks arm strength and durability.