In the world of professional sport, it is a rare and joyous thing to hear a Christian share their love for Jesus Christ. When Frank Reich became the head coach for the NFL team Indianapolis Colts, perhaps few knew his amazing story and unique career.
Starting as a backup quarterback in university football, Reich not only went on to become an NFL player but also went on to pursue an MDiv degree at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina and served as its director for a number of years.
This is remarkable, especially if you consider the atmosphere of NFL locker rooms and the players’ lifestyle is often unwholesome and dishonoring to God. It would seem as a shock to us then that there are quite a few Christians who coach and play NFL football, Frank Reich being one.
Frank Reich grew up in Lebanon, Pennsylvania and attended the University of Maryland on an athletic scholarship as a backup quarterback. It was during this time that he came to faith through the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
After their star quarterback graduated, Reich had his chance to start but after a month into the season, he injured his shoulder, forcing him to return to the bench.
In that moment, Frank doubted God’s providence, ‘God, I thought you and I were good,’…’Why are you doing this to me?’ (‘Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich balances religious beliefs in coaching role’, PennLive, May 4, 2016).
Reich was drafted into the NFL in 1985 and played for the Buffalo Bills for several years, even taking them to a Super Bowl. Known as the ‘comeback kid’, Reich was the one who quarterbacked the most incredible comeback in NFL history when his team was down 35-3 against the Houston Oilers in the 3rd quarter.
His team ended up winning the 1993 playoff game 41-38 in overtime. Prior to the game, Reich had been listening to Michael English’s In Christ Alone.
Someone asked him if God takes sides. Frank responded, ‘Let me use this illustration. As the father of two girls (Lia and Aviry), I love them both very much. When they play a game together, as their father, I am not concerned with who wins and who loses. What is most important is that they learn the lessons they are to be taught from playing the game. … In the same way, God looks at us as His children. He doesn’t care who wins or loses a football game, but only that we learn from each contest and draw closer to Him as a result of what we have learned’ (Frank Reich, thegoal.com).
During a brief stint with the Carolina Panthers in 1995, Reich stumbled across Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC and began taking a few classes. Even after he left the Panthers, Reich continued to take classes in the off season until 1998 when he retired from playing football and sought his degree full time.
After several years at RTS, Ric Cannada, the chancellor for RTS, called Reich into his office and asked if he would be willing to be the director of the RTS Charlotte campus. Reich was stunned at this but after praying about it and discussing it with his wife, he decided to accept.
Reich became the director of the RTS campus in Charlotte in 2003 and led the seminary for three years. At an orientation event, Reich carried a football to the podium and used it for an illustration: ‘We also had orientation at football camp every year, and [Mark] Levy would give the same speech each time,’ he said.
‘He said the most important thing you need to know is how to carry the football’…‘In football, they call it carrying the rock,’ …’In the church, that rock is Christ. We are here to equip you with the tools to help you carry the rock’ (The Washington Post, Ibid.).
In an interview with The Gospel Coalition (TGC), admissions director Rod Culbertson described Frank’s directorship, ‘During his tenure as president, Frank Reich was known as a man with a vision not only for the growth and well-being of the RTS Charlotte campus, but also for striving to elevate the strategic importance of each faculty and staff member serving with him’ (From Seminary President to NFL Head Coach, TGC, 1-4-2019).
During his time at RTS, Reich also tried his hand at being an interim pastor but felt that was not his calling. ‘If pastoring isn’t what I’m called to do, and it’s not an accident that God has given me a career in football, then I guess I should make an impact in that arena in whatever way I can,’ he figured. ‘I decided to start coaching at that time’ (TGC, Ibid.).
Since 2006, Reich has worked with several teams, finally becoming head coach of the Indianapolis Colts in February 2018.
Even as a head coach, Reich’s reformed worldview fuels his coaching and view on vocation. Faith ‘really keeps you grounded and centred’ during the wild emotional swings of professional sports, Reich told TGC.
‘It gives you perspective… ‘We don’t always understand the ups and downs of life, but we try to stay steady, loving and serving people and being committed to the process of doing things the right way and making an impact that way’.
While preaching the gospel isn’t encouraged in the locker room, Reich stated ‘I do think there’s a time to be assertive and proclaim what we believe and stand up on the rooftop and shout it out’… ‘But there’s also a time where we need to keep our mouth shut and just live it out and make someone else ask, “Hey, why do act like that? What is it that shapes how you act?” (PennLive, Ibid.)’.
Football and Christ continue to impact Reich in his calling and should encourage us to emulate Christ and to seek to live out 1 Corinthians 10:31.
Ben Wilkerson served with Sheffield Presbyterian Church, UK, and is a Christian writer residing in the USA.