With Frank Reich coming to FedEx Field this weekend as the newly minted head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, we have a look at his distinct career and the route he took to get here. That path includes a college career at Maryland — and a close brush at landing the head coach position at his alma mater two years ago.
Reich interviewed for the Maryland opening late in 2015, after the school fired Randy Edsall as its football coach. The choice to hire DJ Durkin over Reich seems particularly ill-fated in this moment, with Durkin on administrative leave following the death of a player during a team-sanctioned workout and Reich thriving as a Super Bowl-wining offensive coordinator.
“As a Maryland guy, they damn sure should have hired him back then,” said former linebacker Chuck Faucette, Reich’s teammate at Maryland and now a high school coach in Texas. “As an alumni, a guy who’s put his heart and soul into the school, it would have been a no-brainer. You’re going to care a little bit more. It’s going to mean a little bit more to you. To me, I thought it was a no-brainer.”
Read Adam Kilgore’s full profile of Frank Reich, who will return to the Washington area this weekend to face the Redskins as the Colts’ new head coach.
Reich, the fill-in quarterback who led to Maryland to the greatest comeback in college football history, first expressed interest in working at Maryland way back in 2008, when Ralph Friedgen decided he wanted to turn over play-calling duties to an offensive coordinator. Reich had been out of football since his playing days, working in ministry until his kids reached an age at which he felt comfortable devoting the hours necessary for coaching.
“Frank called me,” Friedgen said this week in a phone conversation. “I was interested, but here was a guy that hadn’t coached a lot and was asking me to be the coordinator. If I had to do over again, I at least would have interviewed him. That’s when I ended up with [James] Franklin. … He was a guy that flew under the radar, but he had a great football mind.”
Reich landed in Indianapolis as a quarterbacks coach for Peyton Manning. By late in 2015, Reich was San Diego’s offensive coordinator and Maryland was firing Edsall.
“At the time it happened, obviously we were in the middle of an NFL season and so my initial response was that I wasn’t interested,” Reich said. “I didn’t want to go through an interview process and be one of three guys or anything like that, but because it was my alma mater and I had great love and respect for my alma mater, there were early indications that it wasn’t going to be a big contingent of people and that I was on a very, very short list. I talked with the people at the Chargers at the time and they were gracious enough to allow me to interview, and that went very well, I thought. It came down to myself and one other guy, from what I understood, and I didn’t get the job.”
That one other guy, of course, was Durkin. But it was clear now, and remains clear today, Reich would have loved to land at his alma mater.
“Naturally, if you’re interviewing for a job and you don’t get it, you’re going to experience a little bit of a disappointment,” Reich said. “The truth of the matter is I’ve had enough things like that happen. I just have the perspective of not meant to be, not the right time, not the right place. Keep working and other opportunities will come.”
At the time, Maryland drew plaudits for luring a rising young coach, an energetic disciple of Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh who had proven himself one of the top recruiters in the industry.
Locally, the choice rankled a certain strain of alumni, well before it unraveled. Hadn’t the best era of Maryland football since the mid-80s come under Friedgen, another alum?
Even if Durkin’s tenure did not unraveled in such horrific fashion, the passing over of Reich still may have backfired based on Maryland’s place in the sport’s ecosystem. Maryland’s aspirations as a football program may outstrip reality in the loaded Big Ten East. If Reich had failed, the Terps would be back at square one. If he succeeded, chances are Maryland would have served as a springboard job for him.
“They know what I feel,” said Boomer Esiason, the Maryland great whom Reich backed up at quarterback for three years. “I’ve made two recommendations in the past, to the university. One was to hire Ralph Friedgen in 1996. They didn’t do it. The other was to hire Frank Reich two years ago. They didn’t do it. I don’t think they’re listening to me.”
Friedgen, never afraid to be frank regarding Maryland, believed Reich would have been right for the job, too.
“The way Maryland selects coaches is crazy,” Friedgen said. “I don’t want to comment on that. Even when they hired me, I think Debbie [Yow], she was pushing for me, but when you go for the interview, it’s not even an interview. It’s more like an interrogation. You go through more committees.”