Colts WR explains why Panthers ‘lucky’ to have Frank Reich

Frank Reich, shown at an Indianapolis Colts practice in 2022, will be introduced Tuesday as the new Carolina Panthers coach.

Frank Reich, shown at an Indianapolis Colts practice in 2022, will be introduced Tuesday as the new Carolina Panthers coach.


When the Carolina Panthers officially introduce Frank Reich as their new head coach on Tuesday, the event will signify a remarkably quick career turnaround for the longtime play-caller.

The introductory press conference will take place five days after the Panthers offered Reich the job, and it will come exactly 85 days after Reich was fired by the Indianapolis Colts, following a 3-5 start to this past season.

Reich was fired despite his 40-33-1 record over nearly five seasons in Indianapolis. The Panthers clearly considered Reich’s entire tenure in the wake of his Indianapolis demise, and felt that the Colts’ loss could turn out to be Carolina’s gain.

Colts wide receiver Parris Campbell, a four-year veteran, had never worked under another NFL coach before Reich was fired in November. Campbell, a 2019 second-round pick, missed Reich’s initial season in Indianapolis, but went through the ups and downs of an annual quarterback turnstile with Reich before the head coach was let go.

Campbell believes the quarterback carousel was the root of why Reich’s tenure in Indianapolis ended so poorly.

“It just got to the point where a lot of stuff was out of control,” Campbell told The Observer on Sunday. “And I think, obviously, that started with the constant change. Obviously, it was four different quarterbacks in four years, which is never good in this league. The team starts with the quarterback in my eyes, so just having that change right there, I think it was just always kind of hard to gel and get back on top and it was just a lot.

“And specifically this past season, we had the quarterback change, Matt (Ryan) ended up getting benched, and then the offensive coordinator (Marcus Brady) ends up getting fired. I just think so much happened, so much turmoil in one season. I just feel like (when) there’s just that many moving parts, it’s hard to take control. … And in this league, you look at the good teams that’s out there, it’s all about consistency. I just think it was hard with all the change.”

An ‘off-the-charts guy’

Campbell, who is set to become a free agent in March, had a career year in Indianapolis amid the turmoil last season. After three injury riddled campaigns to start his NFL journey, Campbell played in all 17 games this past season and caught 63 passes for 623 yards and three touchdowns.

Campbell says Reich helped him battle through his early career adversity as he missed 34 of 49 regular-season games due to various injuries.

“Frank is really an off-the-charts guy,” Campbell said. “Personally speaking, when I was going through all of that stuff, every injury that I had, Frank was always the first person to reach out. He was coming to see me in the training room, checking in on me weekly, just trying to keep my spirits high.”

Reich, who previously served as a pastor at a Charlotte church before returning to the NFL as a coach, bonded with Campbell over their shared religious beliefs.

“He knows that I’m big on my faith, just like how he’s big on his faith,” Campbell said. “So, we would always talk in faith aspects, and he would give me certain Bible scriptures and things of that nature throughout my journey — you could just tell he really cared. It wasn’t just him doing it because he had to. He genuinely cared, and for me — going through what I went through — it meant a lot.”

Campbell’s favorite memory of Reich actually happened after a play in which the wideout sustained a significant foot injury that required surgery and forced him to miss 10 games.

During a home game against the Houston Texans in 2021, Campbell split two defenders as he blazed down the seam, streaking wide open to the end zone. Quarterback Carson Wentz heaved a deep shot down the field to connect with Campbell for a 51-yard score to put the Colts up early in a division matchup.

It was Campbell’s first touchdown catch in more than two years.

As Campbell returned to the sideline — with adrenaline masking the pain of the foot injury — he was congratulated by several teammates. When his teammates finished celebrating, Campbell saw Reich gazing at him.

Reich beamed a prideful smile at the wide receiver.

“He knew the journey I was on and the hard road that I was on to get to that point,” Campbell said. “Not a lot was said in that moment, but me and him just locking eyes and sharing that smile together — it said more than words could in that moment. I just feel like that was a special moment.”

A knowledgeable teacher

While Reich didn’t get to complete his fifth season in Indianapolis, he has a reputation of turning around teams that got off to rough starts during his tenure.

The Colts got off to a 1-5 start during Reich’s first season in 2018. But the group rallied behind the then-rookie head coach and finished the regular season with a 10-6 record. The squad secured a playoff berth and won a wild-card round matchup against the division-winning Texans.

In 2021, Reich’s Colts got off to a 1-4 start. And again, Reich rallied the troops to win eight of the next 10 games. The squad was in contention for a playoff berth until a late-season meltdown led to two brutal losses against the Las Vegas Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars.

“He always kind of found that way to flip the switch,” Campbell said. “And teams ended up finishing well — having a chance to make the playoffs or did make the playoffs. So, I think when it comes to Frank, he’s really good at adjusting.”

Reich is able to adjust because of his ability to galvanize the locker room.

Reich builds strong relationships with the way he treats his players. As former Colts tight end Trey Burton told The Observer last week, his background as an NFL quarterback gives him immediate credibility with the roster.

According to Campbell, Reich’s past helps him teach from the player’s perspective as well.

“He really knows the game inside and out,” Campbell said. “And him being able to relate to the player and see what we are seeing on the field — from the quarterback or receiver standpoint, really having that experience — I think it goes a long way. He’s able to translate it well when teaching it and making corrections on certain things when you’re out on the field … I just think the correlation goes hand-in-hand.”

Reich has a reputation for being a creative play-caller. He likes to move pieces around and disguise his personnel to make the most of potential mismatches.

The fluidity of the offensive structure is what Campbell enjoyed the most about Reich’s play-calling. Campbell could line up in the slot, move outside, and at times, run routes out of the backfield.

“That creativity to know that the guys on the field, he could just do so much with them,” Campbell said. “There weren’t really any limits as far as the plays we had. … I just think the creativity went a long way. And just for me personally, being able to do a bunch of stuff in the offense made it fun.”

A new opportunity

Reich has a tall task in front of him.

The Panthers rallied around interim head coach Steve Wilks during the final 12 games of last season, finishing with a 6-6 run to end a whirlwind campaign. Down the stretch of the season — which began with a 1-4 start and the dismissal of former head coach Matt Rhule — the locker room loudly campaigned for Wilks to be named the permanent head coach.

But, after both Reich and Wilks received second-round interviews, Reich was offered the job over Wilks.

Now, Reich will need to win over a locker room that was sold on his competition. Campbell believes Reich’s nurturing nature will help him break the ice with his new players.

“From a player standpoint, they’re getting a coach that really cares,” Campbell said. “He goes to the (highest) degree to make sure his players have what they need to succeed on the field.”

Wilks earned the respect of the Panthers’ locker room with transparency and accountability. According to Campbell, Reich won’t waver from protecting his players publicly and — like Wilks — will always be forthcoming with his criticism.

“No matter how bad it gets, he’s not the type to go in there and point fingers and blame,” Campbell said. “He’s going to take control of the situation. He’s going to take the heat for it. He never wants to humiliate a player — he wants to coach them up the right way. Obviously, there’s tough conversations always — that’s the nature of the business — but he’s not going to humiliate guys. He’s going to keep it straight forward with you, and as a player, I think you can appreciate that.”

Given his nearly four-year run with Reich, Campbell thinks the Panthers made an excellent choice by hiring his former head coach. Campbell is hoping Reich ultimately finds the success that eluded him, as he switches from the AFC South to the NFC South.

“I think Carolina should be lucky to have Frank,” Campbell said. “And I’m excited for the opportunity that he has.”

Mike Kaye covers the Carolina Panthers for The Charlotte Observer. Kaye previously covered the entire NFL for Pro Football Network, the Philadelphia Eagles for NJ Advance Media and the Jacksonville Jaguars for First Coast News. He is a graduate of the University of North Florida.

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