Frank Reich bringing Panthers connection, ‘championship habits’ as new head coach

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Frank Reich, synonymous with two of the biggest comebacks in football history, is back with the Carolina Panthers, and the quarterback who threw the franchise’s first touchdown pass in 1995 was introduced as the new coach on Tuesday in chief

“This is the NFL. The difference between winning and losing is very small,” Reich, 61, said. “Every year, we see teams go from losing big to winning big, even competing for championships, all in the space of a year. It’s possible. How does that happen? How do you change things? The reason why what’s important to see these things happen is because what we already know instinctively, that the difference between winning and losing, is in the margins. It’s in the details. It’s one player at a time, one play at a time, one detail at a time . about focusing on getting it right.”

Reich takes over a Carolina team that has endured five consecutive losing seasons, including a surprisingly resilient 7-10 mark in 2022. The Panthers haven’t won a playoff game since 2016 — just six NFL teams they have spent more time without one. But last year’s team opened the year 2-7 and finished 5-3, just missing an improbable chance at a division title. So his initial message was one of optimism, that winning is not far off.

“We commit to you and we promise you: We will all dive in,” Reich said. “This is about football, and this is about winning. That’s why I was hired. But it’s also about doing it the right way and being part of something special.”

Reich’s first stint as head coach saw him go 40-33-1 in five years with the Colts, making the playoffs twice but was fired midseason last November after a 3-5 start -1 in Indianapolis. He’s not far from a championship, having served as the Eagles’ offensive coordinator in their 2017 Super Bowl season.

“He’s a man of incredible integrity, an incredible family man, someone who we could say has a great process and a great way of doing things,” Panthers owner David Tepper said in introducing him Tuesday. “(He’s) a guy who basically checks all the boxes and a guy you really want to help build a culture and help lead a team, hopefully for years to come and beyond.”

Reich was Carolina’s starting quarterback when the franchise debuted in 1995, throwing the first touchdown in team history against tight end Pete Metzelaars. The Panthers would lose to the Falcons in overtime that day, and Reich would go 0-3 as a starter before being replaced by rookie Kerry Collins, a short stint typical of a career where he started 20 games in 14 NFL seasons .

“As a career backup quarterback, I don’t have too many highlights, but to have the first touchdown pass in team history is pretty special,” he said. “I’ll never forget the first game.”

Reich said the “secret sauce” to success is having a dominant defense, aiming for a top-five unit — the Panthers ranked 19th in points allowed last season and 22nd in yards allowed. Carolina’s top quarterbacks are all free agents, so the Panthers will likely have a new starting quarterback this fall, either by using the No. 9 overall pick in the draft on a rookie pass rusher or by signing a veteran in free agency. The Panthers boast a strong running game, and will need to re-sign running back D’Onta Foreman as their lead rusher after the team traded Pro Bowl running back Christian McCaffrey to the 49ers.

With Tom Brady’s future in Tampa Bay uncertain, the NFC South is very much on the line, a year after the Bucs won the division with an 8-9 record. The Falcons have substantially more cap space and the No. 8 draft pick, and a win separated first and last in the final standings.

Reich is perhaps best known for pulling off wild comebacks as a player, rallying Maryland from a 31-0 halftime deficit to beat Miami in 1984, and rallying the Bills from a 35-3 deficit to beat the Oilers in the 1992 playoffs. Winning with Carolina won’t be that hard to come by, pointing to a quote he’s kept on his desk since he was an NFL rookie in 1985: “No man suddenly becomes different from his habits and of his cherished thoughts.”

Panthers sign Reich as next head coach

Panthers sign Reich as next head coach

Colin Cowherd reacts to the news that the Panthers are hiring former Colts head coach Frank Reich for the same role.

“We’re going to be a team and an organization that’s all about building championship habits,” Reich said. “Championship thoughts, we’re going to cultivate them. We’re going to feed them. They’re going to grow and they’re going to be contagious and we want to feel that in the community.”

Greg Auman is the NFC South reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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