Hall of Fame GM says there's a big misconception about new Panthers coach Frank Reich
Published in Football
Bill Polian, the Pro Football Hall of Fame general manager, has hired Frank Reich twice at critical points during both men’s careers.
The two have stayed in regular touch for decades. And Polian thinks it is important that Panthers fans understand that there’s a big misconception about Reich only being hired as Carolina’s next head coach because he is a former NFL quarterback who can coach that one position well.
Said Polian in a phone interview: “Narratives can kind of take hold, and the narrative now about Frank is: ‘Well, he’s a quarterback whisperer and the Panthers are going to draft one and then he’ll develop him.’ But he’s much more than that. That’s part of his skill set, sure, but he’s an accomplished head coach. He’s innovative. He’s adaptive. Players love playing for him and coaches love coaching for him. Panther fans should be extremely happy.”
There are few men alive with better team-building credentials than Polian, who made the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015 and constructed the Panthers’ first teams from scratch as general manager. Polian revitalized the fortunes of three different teams — Buffalo, Carolina and Indianapolis, all of which made it at least to the NFC or AFC championship game during his tenure. He was named the NFL’s Executive of the Year by The Sporting News a record six times.
Polian signed Reich to be Carolina’s first starting quarterback in 1995. And years later, Polian was the man who got Reich started in coaching, persuading Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay to create a position for Reich at the bottom of the Colts’ coaching ladder in 2006.
Reich’s career sped upward from there. He was announced Thursday as the Panthers’ new head coach, beating out interim head coach Steve Wilks, former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and several others for the job. Reich’s “re-introductory” press conference with the Panthers will be held at noon on Tuesday at Bank of America Stadium.
Before Polian signed Reich to play quarterback for the Panthers — Reich started the first three games and was then permanently benched for rookie Kerry Collins — the two men had intersected at Buffalo, where Polian was also the GM. It was there that Polian first became so enamored with Reich, who mostly served as the backup quarterback to Jim Kelly as Buffalo made (and lost) four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s.
“Frank was the epitome of the greatest teammate of all time,” Polian said. “At one point, it didn’t look like we were going to be able to get Jim Kelly (from the USFL) and Frank was going to be our starting quarterback. But then here Kelly came, and it was a little like the story of the prodigal son.”
With Reich playing the Biblical role of the dutiful son who stays at home and does the right thing every day, only to see the profligate prodigal son’s return celebrated as if he’s the king of the world?
“Exactly,” Polian said. “Frank handled that as well as anyone ever could have. He and Jim became roommates and absolute collaborators on our no-huddle offense, which took the NFL by storm back then because at the time no one was running the two-minute offense for the entire game. I saw all that and knew Frank was special, as did coach Marv Levy. We both told Frank back then, ‘Look, it’s going to work out for you. And one day, if you want to, you’re going to be a great head coach.’ ”
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