≡ Menu

The ultimate backup

Frank Reich is the ultimate backup.  In 1984, Reich helped lead the largest comeback in college football history.  With Maryland trailing Miami 31-0, Reich came off the bench to replace Stan Gelbaugh and led the Terrapins to a 42-40 victory.  It remained the biggest comeback in college football for over thirty years.

Eight years later, with an injured Jim Kelly on the sidelines, Reich led the greatest comeback in NFL history, leading the Bills to a 41-38 playoff win over Houston after trailing 35-3 early in the third quarter.

And in 2017, Reich was the Eagles offensive coordinator when MVP favorite Carson Wentz tore his ACL, ending his season.  Reich helped design an offense that turned Philadelphia backup and Rams castoff Nick Foles into the Super Bowl MVP. After leading two miraculous comebacks as a backup quarterback, Reich was the man pulling the strings as the Eagles backup quarterback did something even Reich couldn’t do: win the Super Bowl.

And now? Reich is once again coming in off the bench. For most of January, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was expected to become the next Colts head coach.  But McDaniels ultimately changed his mind and decided to return to New England, leaving the Colts at the altar at the last minute.  In an embarrassing bind, Indianapolis has turned to the ultimate backup, tapping Reich as the team’s newest head coach.

Reich, after winning the Super Bowl as an offensive coordinator, is immediately becoming an NFL head coach. In addition to the two coordinators who were promoted by their franchises after winning the Super Bowl after their head coaches retired, Reich will become the 10th coordinator to win a Super Bowl and then become head coach with another team.

In 2004, Romeo Crennel was the Patriots defensive coordinator and won his third Super Bowl in four years in that position. After the season, he joined his former team, the Cleveland Browns, as head coach. Crennel lasted four years and went 24-40 as Browns head coach, which is distinctly above-average by new Browns standards.

In 1999, Mike Martz was the Rams offensive coordinator when St. Louis shocked the world and won the Super Bowl. Martz was branded as an offensive genius, and stayed true to that word for many years. After the season, Dick Vermeil retired (again), and Martz replaced him as Rams head coach. Martz went 53-32 as St. Louis head coach, and took the team back to the Super Bowl in 2001, where the heavily-favored Rams lost to the upstart Patriots. The Rams offense operated at historic levels under Martz, but he was never able to replicate that success after ’01.

In 1994, the San Francisco 49ers won the Super Bowl with a pair of superstar coordinators. After the season, the team lost both OC Mike Shanahan and DC Ray Rhodes. Shanahan went to Denver, where he went 8-8, 13-3, 12-4, and 14-2 his first four seasons, culminating in a pair of back-to-back titles. Rhodes was much less successful: his Eagles went 10-6, 10-6, 6-9-1, and 3-13. His tenure in Philadelphia wasn’t particularly memorable, although he did give a young Jon Gruden his first chance to be an offensive coordinator.

In 1993, Norv Turner was the offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, who had just won back-to-back Super Bowl titles. Turner left to become the Washington Redskins head coach, the offensive genius tapped to restore a division rival. Turner’s career has been marked with mixed results ever since: he was always good enough to get another job, but never successful enough to keep one for very long. He lasted a long (by both his and the franchise’s standards) seven years with Washington, going 49-59-1, but has largely bounced around the league ever since. He will be the Panthers offensive coordinator in 2017, the 9th franchise he’s been the head coach or offensive coordinator with since leaving the Cowboys 25 years ago.

The Dallas defensive coordinator in 1992 was Dave Wannstedt. After helping the Cowboys win the Super Bowl, he was chosen to replace Da Coach in Chicago. Wannstedt never quite lived up to the hype he had in Dallas, going 40-56 with the Bears. He then became the Dolphins defensive coordinator — again under Jimmy Johnson — and succeeded him as Miami head coach the next season. Wannstedt was never much of a fan favorite, either in Miami or as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Panthers.

In 1990, the New York Giants won the Super Bowl with a dominant defense coordinated by Bill Belichick. After the season, he went on to become the Browns head coach. Belichick had an up-and-down tenure in Cleveland, winning a playoff game in his fourth season, but finished 36-44 in five seasons amid a rotating group of quarterbacks. After the Browns moved to Baltimore, Belichick was fired as head coach, and was never heard from again.

In 1988, George Seifert was the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator under the great Bill Walsh. The Hall of Fame coach retired after the season, and Seifert replaced him. It was a seamless transition: Seifert and the 49ers won the Super Bowl in 1989, went 14-2 again in 1990, and won at least 10 games in each of his eight seasons, winning another Super Bowl in 1994. From ’89 to ’96, the 49ers won 77% of their games, a full 10% higher than any other team in the NFL. But after ’96, he resigned after the writing was on the wall that the 49ers were unhappy with Seifert, after he failed to make the NFCCG for the second year in a row.

The defensive coordinator for the famed 1985 Bears, Buddy Ryan was the hottest commodity in coordinator circles. He left to become the Eagles head coach, and while he went 43-35-1 despite playing in a brutally tough division, Ryan’s Eagles never won a playoff game. After three straight playoff losses, combined with Ryan’s abrasive personality, the organization decided to fire Ryan. He returned as the Oilers defensive coordinator in ’93 and the Cardinals head coach in ’94 and ’95, but his crowning achievement there was getting both of his sons into the NFL as DL/LB coach and DB coach.

Bill Arnsparger was the Miami Dolphins’ defensive coordinator from 1970 to 1973.  After Miami led the NFL in points allowed and won the Super Bowl in ’72 and ’73, Arnsparger was an obvious choice for any coaching vacancy. He chose to go to New York to coach the Giants, but his tenure was a disaster.  He went 7-28 with New York, being fired midway through the 1976 season.  Arnsparger returned to the Dolphins for another successful stint as defensive coordinator, and later served as the LSU head coach for three seasons.

The first coordinator to leave a Super Bowl champion happened one year earlier, when Howard Schnellenberger rode the 17-0 wave as the Dolphins offensive coordinator to a head coaching job in Baltimore. But it was a poor fit: the Colts went 4-10 in 1973 where he coached a rookie Bert Jones, and was fired after an 0-3 start in 1974. Schnellenberger returned to Miami as offensive coordinator before serving as a head coach in college for the University of Miami, Louisville, Oklahoma, and Florida Atlantic.

Of the first 9, Shanahan is the obvious pick as the best of the bunch, as Ryan was the only other coach to have a winning record. Reich has long odds to succeed as head coach of the Colts, but that tends to be when Reich is at his best.

{ 16 comments }
  • Four Touchdowns

    One advantage Reich will have is Andrew Luck, assuming he’s healthy. How many of these guys had a franchise QB in place when they took over? It’s no shock that Shanahan is tops — the guy went from Steve Young to John Elway!

  • I’m not sure why George Seifert doesn’t get more respect. He actually won MORE games with the 49ers than Bill Walsh did – both in the regular season and the playoffs. His second Super Bowl champion in 1994 was almost entirely new talent from the last Walsh team in 1988 and outside of Rice and the offensive line, most of the holdovers like Steve Young and Brent Jones had almost all of their success post-Walsh. Maybe it’s because people think that Walsh put him in such a good situation that it would’ve been difficult to screw up. However that discounts that Walsh’s 49ers were on their way to being a one hit wonder with their 1981 Super Bowl title until Seifert became the DC in 1983 and turned them into a defensive dynasty. Bill Walsh owes a lot of his success to Seifert. Seriously why isn’t this guy in the HOF?

    • Four Touchdowns

      You make a compelling case! Thanks for all that good info!

    • Mark Growcott

      What hurts Seifert is not what he did with the 49ers but his 3 years with the Panthers (1999-2001) where he failed to have a winning season and was fired following a 1-15 record in 2001 which ushered in the John Fox era. Unfairly or not this what taints Seifert’s attempts to make it into the HOF.

    • Daniel Menezes

      Agree with Mark below, his Carolina tenure is what hurts him long-term. That said, if he just retires after the 2nd Carolina season and doesn’t go 1-15, maybe he makes it? He ends up with a ridiculous winning percentage.

      It is amazing a guy who went 14-2, 10-6, 14-2, 14-2, 10-6, 13-3, 11-5, 12-4 over an 8-year stretch cannot get in.

      And as you rightly mention, his defenses were critical pieces of even the Walsh years, generally being more consistent year-to-year than the offense, if not as exceptional at its peak.

    • Four Touchdowns

      Hell, Don Coryell still isn’t in the HOF and every offense in the NFL uses his innovations.

      The HOF isn’t the be all, end all… very flawed.

  • Mark Growcott

    Reich will have a reunion with the Eagles in 2018 with the Colts visiting Philadelphia. Schnellenberger, Ryan, Belichick and Turner all visited their previous teams in their first season as Head Coach and all subsequently lost. Reich will also face a tough task to beat his former team.

  • Four Touchdowns

    Hey, it’s the Colts new HC —

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXxmmxKHD7o

    • Johhny Ohrl

      The gold ol´ days, where miracles were legit miracles and didn´t came by the dozen… I remember it if it was yesterday. I watched the game on AFN in Germany live after midnight (back in those days no one was covering the NFL, except Tele 5 with highlites)… My mom was buying a NTSC compatible TV for x thousand Deutsch Marks to make me happy. Yes I was that football crazy… Long gone. Those days never will come back. Sad story…

  • Richie

    Frank Reich is 56 years old. I wish the PFR database was a little more robust on the coaching side (I keep thinking about creating my own database with more coach info.)

    That seems fairly old for a first-time coach. How does this compare to the oldest first-time coaches, and is the success rate better or worse for older first-time coaches?

    • Mark Growcott

      2 that I recall that were in their early sixties when they made their Head Coaching debuts were Bruce Arians with the Cardinals at 61 and Dick LeBeau with the Bengals at 63.

      I agree PFR needs a “Coach Finder” tool, you should make a suggestion/recommendation to them.

    • Deacon Drake

      Ex-players get the short end of the stick entering coaching. The coaching industry expects you to enter in at the bottom, and for a lot of former players that hung around the league, that means making under 6 figures and working for someone 10 years younger. Too many teams are scared shitless to hire outside the current paradigm, and the Head Coach is going to hire HIS assistants, which is why Kubiak, Reich, etc had to wait so long to get hooked up with the right situation. Vrabel is the exception right now, making the transition from player to college to NFL coach to HC in 7 years.

      Coaches that were players, # Games in the league, and age they made it to HC
      Bowles (117) 48
      Marrone (5) 49
      Mularkey (114) 43
      Vrabel (206) 42
      Lynn (83) 48
      Del Rio (160) 40
      Joseph (17) 45
      Pederson (100) 48
      Reich (118) 56
      Garrett (25) 44
      Payton (3) 43
      Rivera (137) 49

      So Reich is an outlier by age. No team is going to hand over the keys to a Peyton Manning or Ray Lewis even if they wanted to because they lack the network to bring in and retain staff… if it backfires, there may be no in-house candidate to retain positions, maintain continuity, etc. So this is the type of resume you get:
      2008 30 NFL Coaching Intern
      2009 31 NFL Coaching Intern
      2010 32 NFL Coaches’ Assistant
      2011 33 NFL Offensive Quality Control
      2012 34 NFL Offensive Quality Control
      2013 35 NFL Quarterbacks
      2014 36 NFL Quarterbacks
      2015 37 NFL Quarterbacks
      2016 38 NFL Quarterbacks
      2017 39 NFL Offensive Coordinator

      or this

      2000 22 College Graduate Assistant
      2001 23 College Recruiting Assistant
      2002 24 College Recruiting Assistant
      2003 25 NFL Scouting Assistant
      2004 26 NFL Scouting Assistant
      2005 27 NFL Offensive Assistant
      2006 28 NFL Offensive Assistant
      2007 29 NFL Quarterbacks
      2008 30 NFL Offensive Assistant
      2009 31 NFL Wide Receivers
      2010 32 NFL Wide Receivers
      2011 33 NFL Quarterbacks
      2012 34 NFL Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
      2013 35 NFL Offensive Coordinator
      2014 36 NFL Offensive Coordinator
      2015 37 NFL Offensive Coordinator

      Zero Head Coaching experience at any level, but hey, he knows a guy… maybe it will work.

      • Richie

        Good stuff. Who are the 2 resumes that you posted?

        Also, I was not previously aware that Doug Marrone played in the NFL. Apparently he played 5 games for the Dolphins in 1987. (Not the strike games.)

  • Richie

    The Dolphins won 57% of their games under Wannstedt, including two 11-win seasons. We didn’t know how good we had it then!

  • Seifert won two Super Bowls with the Niners and I can’t imagine he didn’t have a winning record also?