Summer 2024

Coach Frank Reich debuts with Panthers as he leans on faith, lessons from seminary

The significance of new Panthers head coach Frank Reich’s presence in Charlotte isn’t lost on fans who were around for Carolina’s first game ever as a franchise back in 1995. That day, the Panthers were in Atlanta to play the Falcons, and they were led out of the tunnel by Reich, their starting quarterback.

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In the first quarter, Reich tossed the first touchdown in franchise history with an 8-yard completion to Pete Metzelaars.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S54T4lrjvik

On Sunday at 1 p.m. ET, Reich will again lead the Panthers out of the tunnel in the same city and against the same opponent as he did nearly three decades ago — only this time as the head coach.

Yet thanks to the debut of Carolina’s No. 1 overall pick from April’s draft, quarterback Bryce Young, Reich’s own debut might get lost in the shuffle in the national headlines. And he’s OK with that; this isn’t really all that new to him.

He’s been an NFL head coach before, with the Indianapolis Colts from 2018-22. He’s built a successful offense with a young quarterback before, with Carson Wentz in Philadelphia. He’s worked with some of the game’s greatest quarterbacks, like Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers just to name a few. He’s even been to the Super Bowl — four times as a player when his team came up short, and twice as a coach when his teams were victorious.

Hopes are high that Reich’s return to Carolina will result in similar on-field success. However, the now-61-year-old former quarterback developed his successful leadership philosophy and managerial style far from a football field.

Reich enrolled as a student at the Charlotte campus of Reformed Theological Seminary after his playing days concluded in 1998. In doing so, he turned down an opportunity to join the Colts’ coaching staff. He was following the calling to teach the Bible that God had placed on his heart.

Eventually, Reich earned his master of divinity degree, served as campus president from 2003-2006, and even served as pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church (now Ballantyne Presbyterian).

“Every time he spoke in chapel, the students really paid attention, and I don’t think it was just because he was a famous football player,” current RTS-Charlotte president Michael Kruger said in an ESPN article published in May. “He had a way of connecting with his audience, and bringing the text of the Bible alive to those he was speaking to.”

Reich honed his abilities as a team builder, teacher and leader at RTS, skills that have served him well as an NFL coach.

“What I watched in those early meetings was that he already was a coach,” current RTS professor Rod Culbertson told ESPN. “He realized he didn’t know everything about everybody’s job, but like a head coach, you have to trust everybody under you and make them feel appreciated.”

Reich left RTS to join the Colts in 2007. He describes it as one of the most difficult decisions of his life. But it was clear to him, and to those around him, God had called Reich back to football to serve Him through coaching.

“I learned things during those years that I literally use every day as a coach, in relating to people, in teaching and instructing, universal principles that you learn in seminary that apply to everyday life,” Reich told ESPN. “I found seminary was for everyday living, including being a football coach.”

Between football and faith, Reich’s roots in Charlotte certainly run deep. So does the optimism that he is just the man to turn around a franchise that hasn’t had a winning season since 2017-18. He’s surrounded himself with a star-studded coaching staff that includes former head coaches Jim Caldwell and Dom Capers, kept a talented young defensive core intact, and re-tooled an offense to put Young in the best position to succeed.

In the NFC South, a division many experts believe is “wide open” after the retirement of Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady, can Carolina be the team to supplant the Buccaneers?

A lot of questions will be answered about Reich, Young and the new-look Panthers on Sunday.

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