From Seminary President to NFL Head Coach

This fall, former Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) Charlotte campus president Frank Reich began his first season as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

At 45, Reich took a coaching internship with the Indianapolis Colts. He moved up to offensive coaching staff assistant, to quarterback coach for Peyton Manning, to wide receivers coach. He coached for the Arizona Cardinals for a year, for the San Diego Chargers for three, and for the Philadelphia Eagles for two.

 

Imagine Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler taking over the Dallas Cowboys. Or Trinity International University president David Dockery coaching the Chicago Bears. Or Covenant Theological Seminary president Mark Dalbey heading up the Los Angeles Rams.

This fall, former Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) Charlotte campus president Frank Reich began his first season as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

“I could never have predicted this path,” Reich told The Washington Post. “It’s crazy. It’s fun.”

It’s not the first time his path has seemed crazy.

When he enrolled in his first RTS class in 1997, he was a backup quarterback for the Carolina Panthers.

“When I was playing, I always thought I was going to be a coach,” Reich told TGC. “When I went into full-time ministry, that was for all the right motives—a real, sincere, heartfelt love for God. I was trying to do the right thing.”

He was “selling everything” to follow Jesus. And he did—he graduated from seminary, led RTS for three years, then pastored a local church. But he didn’t feel called to it.

And RTS had taught him that pastoring isn’t everyone’s calling.

“I came to recognize more and more this false dichotomy between sacred and secular work,” Reich said. He learned about “the priesthood of all believers—that every Christian is called to live out their faith in their sphere of influence.”

And Reich’s sphere of influence is football.

Comeback Kid

The first thing to know about Reich, the Indianapolis Star told readers when he was named head coach in February, is that “he knows about comebacks.”

Reich, who grew up in a religious home, has been playing organized football since sixth grade. He went to the University of Maryland on an athletic scholarship, where he was a year behind All-American quarterback Boomer Esiason. He backed up Esiason for three years. When Esiason graduated, Reich finally had his chance to start in 1984.

But one month in, he injured his shoulder. Three weeks later, the coach told him the team would stick with his replacement, and Reich was back on the bench as backup.

Reich couldn’t believe it.

God, I thought you and I were good, he remembers thinkingWhy are you doing this to me?

He realized that “football had become my God. . . . When that was taken away from me, I realized I had to reprioritize my life.”

So he worked at it. And a few weeks later, in a game against the Miami Hurricanes, he came off the bench at halftime. The Terrapins were down 31-0.

Over the next two quarters, Reich threw three touchdowns, handed off for two more, and ran one in himself. Maryland won 42–40, and the comeback remained college’s greatest for 22 years.

Almost 10 years later, he did it again, this time coming off the bench in his first NFL playoff game with the Buffalo Bills. Three minutes into the third quarter, the Bills were down 35–3 to the Houston Oilers. Reich handed off for the first touchdown, then threw four in a row. The Bills won 41–38 in a 1993 game that would get its own name (“The Comeback” or “The Choke,” depending on the fan), its own Wikipedia page, and its own NFL record (largest comeback in NFL history).

But Reich’s not a prosperity theologian. He knows getting himself straight with God didn’t lead to touchdowns and paychecks. Four weeks after The Comeback, the Bills lost the Super Bowl 52–17.

They would ultimately lose four Super Bowls in a row, from 1991 to 1994. And Reich never would land that starting quarterback position.

“[A]fter our crushing 52–17 loss to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVII, I was devastated,” he wrote. “The devastation was compounded by the fact that I had played more than half of the game. I couldn’t understand how God could allow us to get beat like that, especially after the Houston miracle.”

He was flying home from Pasadena when he realized the answer.

“For the first two hours of the trip, I was going crazy trying to figure out why the Super Bowl went the way it did,” he wrote. “Finally, I could take it no longer. I realized I could be asking the same questions the rest of my life. I needed some peace of mind. The only thing I could think to do was to put on my headset and listen to [Michael English’s] ‘In Christ Alone.’”

It was a song his sister had introduced him to. He’d listened to it hundreds of times, even reading it at the press conference after The Comeback.

Now, he “sought comfort from the song which gave me peace during the stressful week prior to the Houston game. The message I was now hearing was that we can experience victory in all our circumstances through Jesus Christ. He gives us the strength and hope to overcome all odds.”

Not Just a Testimony

Reich grew up Catholic, coming to know Jesus as a University of Maryland senior through Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru) and Athletes in Action.

As a ball player, Reich “was very involved in Bible studies and traveling around and sharing the gospel at different events,” he told TGC.

“As I was growing, I felt like I needed some more formalized training to be able to use the platform that sports had provided to be able to share the gospel,” he said. Not only that—“my heart was not just to share my testimony. I also wanted to be able to teach the Bible.”

Because Reich was playing for the Panthers, he was living in Charlotte. After “a little bit of research,” the backup quarterback of the Carolina Panthers ended up in a couple RTS classes in the offseason.

(“Of course, I heard about it pretty quickly,” said Ric Cannada, then president of RTS’s new Charlotte campus. Reich even hauled some buddies along with him—the campus still has former Panthers in the classroom.)

Reich kept taking classes during his time with the Panthers, then the New York Jets, then the Detroit Lions. After he played his last pro game in 1998, he took classes while he worked on a few business interests

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