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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Mike Kaye

Panthers hire Frank Reich as head coach: What you need to know

Frank Reich will be the Carolina Panthers’ sixth full-time head coach in franchise history.

On Thursday, the Panthers announced they agreed to terms with Reich, who previously served as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

Reich, 61, will replace Matt Rhule, who went 11-27 during his tenure as head coach. The Panthers decided to pass on interim head coach Steve Wilks, who went 6-6 during his temporary tenure last season, in favor of Reich.

Reich’s background as a former NFL quarterback and head coach likely played a major role in the decision to hire him. Reich will need to build a strong staff around him before he can start to put his plan in place for his new locker room.

Reich will work with GM Scott Fitterer to build a roster that can contend for the foreseeable future. That task will begin with the identification of a potential franchise quarterback.

Luckily for the Panthers, Reich has a long history of working with the position.

Here are four things to know about the Panthers’ new head coach:

First Panthers starting quarterback

Before becoming a coach, Reich played 13 seasons in the NFL as a quarterback. While he was mostly used as a backup, Reich threw for 6,075 yards, 40 touchdowns and 36 interceptions during his long professional playing career.

Reich is most famous for leading one of the biggest comebacks in NFL history during his time with the Buffalo Bills. In 1992, Reich led the Bills back from a 32-point deficit to beat the Houston Oilers, 41-38, in overtime in a playoff game. That comeback was the largest in NFL history until the Minnesota Vikings rallied from a 33-point deficit against Reich’s former team, the Colts, in December.

Reich went 5-15 as a starting quarterback, and he owns the distinction of being the Panthers’ first starting quarterback in team history. Reich compiled an 0-3 record before being replaced by No. 5 overall draft pick Kerry Collins in 1995.

A winding road of a coaching journey

Following his playing career, Reich eventually made his way back to the NFL as a coaching intern with the Colts in 2006. He had stints with the franchise as a quarterbacks coach and wide receivers coach under then-head coach Jim Caldwell. After Caldwell’s firing in 2012, Reich was hired as wide receivers coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

After that one-year stint, Reich found his groove as quarterbacks coach for the Chargers in San Diego. During his time out west, Reich tutored quarterback Philip Rivers to success in a pass-heavy offense. After one season as a position coach, Reich was promoted to offensive coordinator for the Chargers. He was fired in 2016 after a rough 2015 campaign that saw the Chargers finish as the second-worst offense in the league.

Reich was hired by Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson in 2016. Reich held the title of offensive coordinator but didn’t call plays. Instead, he helped Pederson craft the passing game and worked with quarterback Carson Wentz.

In 2017, Pederson and Reich helped launch Wentz into superstar status, as the quarterback led the Eagles to a division title before tearing up his knee late in the season. With Wentz sidelined, Reich tutored backup Nick Foles into an improbable and prolific playoff run to a Super Bowl title.

A head coach and a play-caller

Reich parlayed the Super Bowl LII win into a return to Indianapolis. After Josh McDaniels left Indianapolis at the altar in its coaching search, Reich was hired by the Colts as their new head coach in early 2018.

Reich decided to call plays along with serving as head coach. Pederson, his former boss, had success with a similar setup.

During his first season with the Colts as head coach, Reich led the squad to a 10-6 record and playoff berth. The Colts offense finished fifth in points and seventh in yardage with Andrew Luck at quarterback. Unfortunately for Reich and the Colts, Luck unexpectedly retired in the summer of 2019, and the Colts became a revolving door at quarterback for the next four years.

Despite the turnstile at the QB position, Reich’s offenses finished in the top 10 in points in three of his first four seasons. Reich worked with Luck, Rivers, Wentz and Jacoby Brissett before the wheels truly fell off this past season with Matt Ryan under center.

Reich was fired after a 3-5-1 start to last year’s campaign. In total, Reich’s tenure amounted to a regular-season record of 40-33-1. He led the Colts to the playoffs twice, but never won the AFC South.

History with the roster

Reich has worked with a pair of backup quarterbacks on the Panthers’ roster.

PJ Walker, who is expected to become a restricted free agent in March, played under Reich on the Colts’ practice squad from 2018 to 2019 before heading to the XFL.

Reich was also in Indianapolis in 2020 when the Colts drafted Jacob Eason in the fourth round. Eason spent two seasons in Indianapolis before being claimed off waivers by the Seattle Seahawks in 2021. Eason re-signed with the Panthers on a reserve/future deal earlier this month.

Reich has also worked with a pair of impending unrestricted free agents: cornerback T.J. Carrie and kicker Eddy Piñeiro. Carrie played for Reich for two seasons in Indianapolis, while Piñeiro lost a kicking competition with the Colts in 2021.

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