INDIANAPOLIS — The bond between Colts coach Frank Reich and quarterback Carson Wentz can be traced to a three-minute car ride across the North Dakota State campus to the football facility.
It was 2016 and Wentz was expected to be one of the top picks in the draft. Reich, then offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles, wanted to sneak in a few extra minutes with his future quarterback — and avoid being cramped in the rental car with his Eagles co-workers.
In going over some of the things discussed in the team’s meeting with Wentz, Reich told the quarterback he respected how he discussed his faith without overdoing it or forcing it on people.
“That’s when I said to him it reminds [me] of a verse, 1 Peter 3:15, ‘But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,'” Reich recalled.
That’s when it started.
“As I’m quoting it, he’s finishing it with me and then he just gets a big smile on his face,” Reich continued.
Wentz handed Reich his phone, pressed the button on it and told him to look at his screensaver. The quarterback had the exact Bible verse on it.
What are the odds? There’s probably a better chance of winning the lottery, considering the endless number of Bible verses.
“We both kind of looked at each other with the same facial expression,” Reich said. “That was a moment. A lot of very cool Bible verses that are very helpful and we’re in a three-minute car ride together and I happened to pick a verse and it’s the exact same verse he had on his phone. You just knew.”
Not much has changed between the coach and quarterback outside of being on different teams over the past three seasons. Reich and Wentz are back together after the Colts acquired the quarterback from Philadelphia for a third-round pick in April’s draft and a conditional 2022 second-round pick. The conversations about faith still take place.
Sometimes talks about their Christian beliefs will happen while the two are sitting in the coach’s office, after one of their meetings or even while they’re working on their chipping game on the par-3 course that sits on the property of the Colts’ complex.
“In the time Carson has been here it has happened a couple times a week,” Reich said. “It’s because we’re meeting a lot. We’re in here talking, we finish the meeting and then talking about what’s going on at home and get to talking and something comes up. It’s not hard when the two of us are not in our football meeting mode. Very naturally going to come up.”
The head coach-quarterback relationship is a vital bond to most teams’ success. The bond is even tighter when the head coach is a former NFL quarterback like Reich, because he’s able to see the game through the same prism as his starter. When you add in their common-faith beliefs, the bond is hard to break.
“No matter wins, losses, all that stuff — we both know what’s the main thing in our life and we know what our priorities and values are and where we stand on that,” Wentz said. “We always have that connection. That’s just how it is, even with other believers. You’re always challenging and encouraging each other, sharing things.”
Reich’s Christian faith has always been there. His commitment to it is so strong, he was president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina and pastor of a Presbyterian church following his retirement from his 13-year NFL playing career.
Wentz has a foundation called Audience of One whose mission statement is uplifting individuals and communities around the world by demonstrating God’s love for His people. The quarterback has the AO1 acronym tattooed on his right wrist.
“We have three different ministries,” Wentz said. “All three of them are Christ-centered. We are going to tangibly offer something, an experience or opportunity or meal, but we’re also going to offer Jesus, offer hope to everybody and share the gospel and all those things. It’s super cool. It’s what I’m passionate about, it’s what is near and dear to my heart.”
Wentz and Reich had to lean pretty hard on their faith late in the 2017 season.
Wentz, in his second season, was putting up MVP-caliber numbers when he suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 14. The injury was not only physically taxing but mentally as well, as Nick Foles stepped in for Wentz and helped lead Philadelphia to the Super Bowl while the franchise quarterback could only sit on the sidelines and cheer.
Wentz could have gone into a cocoon during that time. Instead, he and Reich talked about God numerous times after the injury and throughout his grueling rehabilitation. Being the forgotten player because of an injury during a Super Bowl run can take a toll.
“It gave Carson the perspective that he could genuinely celebrate the success while still going through a difficult journey,” Reich said. “I think those were discussions we had as Christian men; we can understand that God works in mysterious ways.
“So how can I grow and mature through this and still be supportive to my teammates? I know everybody should think like that and wants to think like that. But I think from a Christian faith perspective, there’s some deep roots that help guys, that help us put that into the proper context and perspective to thrive through those difficult times.”
Reich’s relationship with Wentz adds to the many strong bonds he has with players. Reich worked closely with linebacker Darius Leonard, guard Quenton Nelson and tight end Jack Doyle on social impact committees. The coach talks regularly with players about their families, especially receiver T.Y. Hilton and cornerback Kenny Moore II.
That’s just Reich’s personality, because he knows life is about more than football.
“Frank’s ability to relate with our entire locker room and each player individually is really special,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard said. “He is able to do it because he is authentic and real each and every day. I think he treats them exactly the way he wants to be treated — with honesty and respect. He played 13 years in this league and I think that experience combined with his values are what make him a really special communicator.”
Wentz is in the process of doing the same, which is necessary after there were reports of him not being a good teammate while in Philadelphia. He’s spent time getting to know his Colts teammates on and off the field. Wentz plans to hold workouts, which isn’t abnormal, at some point prior to the start of training camp.
“I have no idea what everybody else is talking about. I see a team guy,” receiver Michael Pittman Jr. said. “He’s always there, just ready to help and just do whatever it takes. He’s been a great guy, been a great teammate. So, that’s pretty much all I have to say about that. He’s been great so far.”
The 2021 season will center around whether Reich’s previous relationship with Wentz will help the quarterback regain his pre-injury confidence and productivity. But in the eyes of the coach, Wentz’s relationship with his teammates is even more important.
“We’ve maintained a good friendship in the past three years,” Reich said. “Not that we talked a lot. Talked some in the offseason. If he had a good or bad game, I might text something. I think there’s a solid foundation because of the past history. There’s great relationships everywhere. I never like to single out that relationship and say that’s the most important on the team. The most important one is Carson’s with his teammates. That will help us go where we want to go as well.”