Sometimes as a reporter, you’re compelled to ask the obvious question. You know it’s one your subject has answered before. They’re probably tired of hearing it.
So you try to be polite and soften it, as I did with Indianapolis Colts quarterbacks coach Frank Reich on Friday morning.
But, ultimately, you have to blurt it out, like this one for Reich:
What in the world can you teach Peyton Manning?
“That’s the question I get more than any other,” Reich said. “Here’s what I know. There’s no question he’s probably the smartest football player ever to play the game. He’s been running this offense for 12 years or whatever. He and (offensive coordinator) Tom Moore have crafted this offense.”
Despite all that, Reich was struck by something Manning said in their first meeting after Reich promoted to quarterbacks coach when Jim Caldwell took over for Tony Dungy as head coach.
“The essence of the first thing Peyton said to me was, ‘I want to be coached,’ ” Reich said.
Reich, who came to Fort Wayne on Friday as the keynote speaker for the YMCA’s 4th Annual Good Friday Breakfast at the Grand Wayne, embraces the task.
A veteran of 14 NFL seasons, Reich describes his role as Colts quarterbacks coach as working in tandem with Manning as he studies films, breaks down defenses and looks for those points of vulnerability to exploit on Sundays. Reich played in a similar no-huddle offense with the Buffalo Bills. In fact, Colts president Bill Polian worked for the Bills when Reich broke into the league and suggested, way back when, that Reich would one day make a good coach.
Reich might not be able to “teach” Manning much about the game, but the opportunity to help Manning fine-tune his Hall of Fame-bound skills ranks as a pretty good job.
“I may only be a small help,” Reich said. “If you’re Michael Phelps’ swim coach, how much faster is he going to get? He wants to get faster, but in reality he’s only going to go a couple of tenths of a second faster. If I can help Peyton get a couple tenths of a second better, analogous to swimming, that’s what I want to do.”
Caldwell, the quarterbacks coach before being promoted to succeed the retired Dungy, will bring a new face to the Colts’ primary leadership. He’s made some significant moves, replacing the defensive coordinator (Larry Coyer is in, Ron Meeks out) and special teams coach (Ray Rychleski is in, Russ Purnell out).
Reich told Colts fans – and even those Bears fans in attendance at the breakfast – that he expects similar excellence in all areas of coaching from Caldwell that was the trademark of Dungy.
Both Dungy and Caldwell are quiet leaders, to an extent.
“Jim comes from a family of preachers,” Reich said, “so when he speaks, you can feel the intensity in his voice. It’s not that he’s a yeller and a screamer, but he has a message he wants to deliver with the team. Tony did, too, but they deliver it in different ways.”
Reich was a solid quarterback for Buffalo for 10 years and also played for Carolina, the New York Jets and Detroit. He wasn’t a superstar, by any means. He joked with the audience about his record for most fumbles in a Super Bowl. But he does bring great experience in knowing what it’s like to be an NFL quarterback.
Reich is best known for a pair of comebacks. The first was as a collegian when he led Maryland back from a 31-0 deficit to beat Miami 42-40 in 1984. The second came when, filling in for the injured Jim Kelly, he led the Bills back from a 35-3 deficit to beat the Houston Oilers 41-38 in overtime in the 1992 wild-card playoff game.
Reich calls the Colts the best organization in pro sports, and with Manning, he’s coaching a player who has directed 36 fourth-quarter or overtime game-winning drives. Reich worked as an offensive assistant last year, but was essentially the assistant quarterbacks coach.
“It was a great year to be in the quarterbacks meeting room when your quarterback is MVP of the NFL,” Reich said. “Those are good meetings, happy meetings, when you win 12 games.”
Reich expects nothing less when next season kicks back in gear.
“The thing I’ve learned about great players is they usually have a desire to get better,” Reich said. “Peyton wants to get better as much as any quarterback I’ve seen.”
One conversation reveals how Reich teaches Manning: With great pleasure.