Other than winning games and eventually a Superbowl, the next Bears head coach will be tasked with getting the most out of Mitch Trubisky. Being that having a great quarterback and winning championships go hand-in-hand, it is imperative that the next coaching staff be able to develop Trubisky into a franchise quarterback. As I noted in my Jim Bob Cooter #CoachingCarousel article, the proven formula for developing a franchise quarterback is to pair a talented passer with an innovative offensive mind, with an added bonus if that mind belongs to a guy that actually played the position himself.
An interesting name who checks both boxes, who maybe isn’t talked about quite enough is Frank Reich. Of all the former quarterbacks who are now coaching in the NFL, Reich may be the one who had the most NFL success. Reich is best known for leading the biggest comeback in NFL history in a 1993 wildcard game vs the Oilers in place of injured Hall of Famer, Jim Kelly. With that win and a win the following week, Reich is the only quarterback in NFL history that has made multiple playoff starts and is undefeated in his postseason playing career. These wins earned Reich the title of best backup quarterback in NFL history.
But Reich’s ability to play quarterback means very little in this evaluation. One of the things I personally like to see with offensive and defensive coordinators is a success at multiple stops and under multiple coaching staffs. Reich’s coaching career started as an offensive assistant and then quarterbacks coach under Jim Caldwell. In that position, obviously, he rubbed shoulders with Peyton Manning. In his first season with Reich as quarterbacks coach, Manning won the 2nd of back-to-back MVP awards. Reich was the Colts’ wide receivers coach the year Manning missed with a shoulder injury, but still managed a pair of 70-catch, 900 yard wide receivers in Reggie Wayne and the emerging Pierre Garcon. Reich’s contact with future Hall of Famers continued as he served as wide receivers coach for Larry Fitzgerald under coach, Ken Whisenhunt. Whiz took Reich with him to San Diego to be quarterback coach under Mike McCoy in 2013, before Reich himself became McCoy’s offensive coordinator. While working with Reich, Philip Rivers probably played the best football of his career, with over 13,000 yards and 92 TDs, while completing over 67% of his passes in those 3 seasons. Finally, the last 2 years, Reich has been the offensive coordinator for the Eagles under Doug Pederson where he has led the 4th ranked offense so far this season.
While it’s tough to gauge how much of the success in his coaching career is due to being surrounded by Hall of Fame talent at every stop, Reich has experience in a lot of different offensive systems. In the last 10 years, Reich has made ties, either directly or indirectly, to the Andy Reid, Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher, and (if you squint really hard) Bill Walsh coaching trees. Not to mention his direct ties as a player to Marv Levy and his no-huddle innovative offense that dominated the 1990s.
Reich has positioned himself on the head coaching radar the last 2 years by playing a part in the development of Carson Wentz in Philadelphia. Wentz had a mediocre rookie season with Reich as offensive coordinator in 2016 but has taken a huge step forward in year two with an MVP caliber season through the first 9 games of the season. Ironically enough, the 2016 Eagles featured a rookie quarterback that they traded up to #2 overall to draft, a weak group of wide receivers that featured a tight end as the leading receiver, and a short shifty running back out of the backfield. This year, the Eagles revamped their receiving corps and now have a balanced offense 4th in the league in rushing, but 1st in touchdown passes. A trend the Bears would hope Reich could duplicate in Chicago.
One negative with Reich is that because he was regarded as a top backup quarterback in the league, he played in the league 13 seasons until age 37. Reich also took almost a decade away from football before getting into coaching. Therefore, he’d be a 1st time NFL head coach at the ripe age of 56 years old. While there are only six coaches in the league with over 10 years in the same job, ideally a team that is still rebuilding may be looking for a head coach that has the potential to be around for the long-term. Reich’s age probably won’t allow the Bears to use him to establish Steeler and Packer like stability in leading the franchise. However, Reich’s hiring could potentially come with his current quarterback coach, John DeFilippo being promoted to offensive coordinator with a move to Chicago. Granted, he would probably get a similar promotion to stay in Philly, but DeFilippo is a sleeper head coaching candidate himself who would get a chance to call plays and bolster his resume. Either way, Reich would have enough connections to young offensive minds from the many coaching trees I mentioned, making for very intriguing hires as his coordinators.
If Reich didn’t take 8 years off after his playing career, I think he’d already be a tenured head coach in the NFL. As a player, he kept himself prepared to come in at a moment’s notice in one of the toughest jobs in pro sports. His career has had him surrounded by Hall of Famers such as Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Larry Fitzgerald, and potentially Philip Rivers. So he knows how to handle superstars and possibly knows the preparation it takes to become one. But most importantly, Reich checks those important boxes. He knows the offense and he knows the quarterback position. Even if he isn’t the next coming of George Halas, he’s a guy that can get this franchise headed in the right direction and for the first time in team history, put a consistently competitive offense on Soldier Field.