INDIANAPOLIS -- A journey that started some 13 years ago as a volunteer assistant at an NCAA Division II school in North Carolina and included assistant coaching stops in Indianapolis, Arizona, San Diego and Philadelphia will come full circle on Sunday afternoon for new Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich.
Though quarterback Andrew Luck will rightfully have some jitters about playing his first regular-season game in 20 months, there also could be some sweaty palms, goosebumps and butterflies in Reich's stomach before the Colts open the season against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Reich, a 14-year NFL backup quarterback, will be working his first regular-season game as a head coach, and the person who gave him his first professional coaching opportunity -- former Colts general manager Bill Polian -- will be at Lucas Oil Stadium watching, too.
"He is kind of like a football father to me," Reich said of Polian. "He drafted me, and everywhere I have been, he has had a hand in me being there somehow, some way. I was really hoping that (former Buffalo Bills coach) Marv Levy could be at this first game, a man I have a tremendous amount of respect for. He'll be at a game later this year. He is not able to make it to this first one."
Reich likely would have reached the stage of being a head coach at some point, but he probably should have sent Josh McDaniels some kind of "Thank You" card or something for helping him speed up the process.
Reich wasn't even on Colts general manager Chris Ballard's initial interview list to replace the fired Chuck Pagano last January. It wasn't until after McDaniels decided to return to New England and left the Colts standing at the alter that Ballard turned to Reich, then the Philadelphia Eagles' offensive coordinator.
One of the many things that stood out to Ballard about Reich was that he shared his same vision in building a roster. Though Luck is the focal point of the franchise, the team isn't about one player. That's why Reich didn't spend time during his interview peppering Ballard with questions about Luck's health status.
This wasn't lip service from Reich, either. He relayed the same message to the players, too. If the Colts were going to win, it was going to be because of the entire team, not one or two players.
"I can't even tell this is Frank's first time as a head coach," tight end Eric Ebron said. "He's so comfortable, it feels like he's done this before. There are no rookie mistakes. Obviously, there are things you wish you'd call or do differently ... but you cannot tell this is his first year [as a head coach]."
Having Reich not come across as a rookie head coach is what the Colts need with a locker room that features first-time coordinators on offense, defense and special teams, and a lot of new, young players.
"Frank is very steady all the time," guard Matt Slauson said. "He's not up and down. He's the same guy every day. His expectations are high and he's not afraid to call us on it. That's huge. That's the biggest thing to players. The head coach needs to be genuine, they need to be themselves and it's very obvious to all of us that Frank is. He's not trying to be like anybody else. This is who he is. What you see is who he really is, and that honestly has been great."
Reich has brought much-needed burst of energy to an organization that lacked it over the past three years during its current playoff drought. Everything is done with tempo and with a cause, going all the way down to having music blaring from the speakers throughout practice.
"Frank has been around it, but he's still learning. One thing he does, he keeps things fresh every day," said Colts linebacker Najee Goode, who was with Reich in Philadelphia last season. "Good head coaches, the ones I've been around, they keep things fresh. It's weird because of his personality and you wouldn't think, but he has a lot of enthusiasm in him. He encourages and lets us be us. He played the game for 14 years. Frank is clear. He's going to say things a few times over to let you know what he wants done and then he'll let you go out and be you."
Doing the job in practice and in a preseason game is about to be completely different for Reich now that the regular season has arrived. He's a head coach who also calls plays on offense. He acknowledged that he has to do a better job of being locked in on what's going on with the defense and special teams.
"When I am engaged in practice, I think it just naturally flows over to the game because I get a feel for what (defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus) and the defensive guys are doing over there," Reich said. "What they are calling and why they are calling (it). We always talk about the why. Why we are calling what we are calling, what's being emphasized? When I get that flow during the week it's much easier for that to carry over into the game."