INDIANAPOLIS – Even amidst the worst of it, while they sat in the league cellar at 1-5, winless for a full month, Frank Reich refused to let the doubt creep in. He'd spent 24 years in this league – 14 as a player, a decade as a coach – shaping and steeling a personal conviction that had, across seven magical days last winter, won him a Super Bowl and delivered him the job he'd always dreamt of.
That conviction? He'd lean on it. He'd live it. Especially at 1-5.
"No man becomes suddenly different from his habit and cherished thought," Reich would tell himself, leaning on the words of Joshua Chamberlain, the Civil War officer who helped steer Union troops to victory at Gettysburg.
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"We just gotta keep working, and this will change," he'd tell his wife, Linda, in private moments at home. No matter he'd dropped five of his first six games as an NFL head coach. No matter his team was tied for the worst record in football. No man becomes suddenly different …
His belief in his team – in himself – was non-negotiable.
He was right. A month later, everything has changed. On Sunday Frank Reich strolled into Lucas Oil Stadium with the swagger of a coach on a three-game win streak knowing it'd soon be four. Sunglasses on. Scarf dangling. Backpack hanging off his shoulder. Beatdown coming.
A few hours later he strolled out of that stadium, sunglasses on, wife in tow, beatdown complete. The swagger was turned up. That's what happens when you're the coach of one of the hottest teams in football.
The lesson in all of this, particularly after Reich's Indianapolis Colts rolled past Tennessee Sunday 38-10 to climb to 5-5 on the season: Do not let the nice guy, former pastor-persona fool you. He may be perpetually measured and unfailingly kind, never swearing, never lying – in so many ways, the antithesis of the brooding, bullying football coach of past eras. But that does not mean Frank Reich does not want to step on his opponent's throat every week.
Because he does.
And he will.
There is a certain cocksure in the way Reich calls plays – You think you can stop us? Prove it – and in the way he's saving his team's season. From 1-5 to 5-5 and, believe it or not, tied for the AFC's second wild card spot with six games left to play. The head coach's fingerprints are all over this mid-season resurgence. That conviction of his is paying off.
"People are gonna have to deal with us, we're not gonna have to deal with them," he lectured his reeling team back in October, a telling prophesy considering how the last month has played out. Soon as the Colts stopped getting in their own way, they started winning football games. And they have not lost since.
The Jags could not deal with them last week. The Titans could not deal with them Sunday. (And this is a Tennessee team, remember, that stomped on Tom Brady and the mighty Patriots 34-10 a week prior.)
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The Titans came into Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday riding that high, not to mention a two-game win streak, and all the Colts did was score the game's first 24 points. It was so one-sided, so laughably over, that Andrew Luck retired to the bench for the bulk of the fourth quarter.
Gonna keep covering T.Y. Hilton one-on-one? Good luck with that. The Colts' Pro Bowl receiver torched the Titans for nine catches on nine targets for 155 yards and two scores.
Reich had a feeling all week Hilton was about to go off. Maybe that's why he wore a smirk as he walked into work Sunday morning.
Think Marlon Mack's the only running back who can beat you? Jordan Wilkins took a carry 18 yards into the end zone to push the lead to 24-zip.
Another of Reich's strengths: employing little-used pieces of the offense at the exact right moment.
Most telling, though, is this: Reich's offense is so deep, and so ridiculously balanced, that Luck has now hit 12 different teammates for a touchdown this season. That's six wide receivers, four tight ends, three running backs. That's also one shy of the most in league history, set by Atlanta's Matt Ryan in his Pro Bowl season of 2016.
"I think he's playing the best I've ever seen him play," one of those touchdown-catchers, Jack Doyle, said of Luck Sunday.
Reich's changed everything for his quarterback, and for his team.
The Colts have not lost in a month; their four-game win streak is the longest for this franchise in four years. Reich's offense embarrassed Tennessee's top-ranked D, dropping 38 in three quarters on a unit that was allowing an average of 16. The offensive line's playing better than it has in a decade; Luck's has not been sacked in five consecutive games, a span of 23 quarters and 214 dropbacks.
And when the defense plays like that – i.e. Five sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble – Reich's team is proving it's gonna be a tough out for the rest of 2018.
The coach sees it.
"The belief that we had early on has turned into a confidence," Reich said.
The players feel it.
"We just had to get a taste of what losing was like," tight end Eric Ebron said. "At that point, people understand what losing's like, and it becomes a bad feeling. No one wants to live in that moment. We just had to be patient. "
Same as this franchise had to be back in February, the stain of the Josh McDaniels saga still fresh. Remember: Frank Reich did not even Chris Ballard's initial list of five candidates he wanted to interview.
When they finally sat down, Reich did not even bring up Andrew Luck's shoulder in the interview. They talked for hours. Reich believed he could win with or without the star quarterback.
Ballard was sold. He felt the conviction in Reich's words.
Nine months later, the Colts' back-up plan at head coach has saved them, never doubting that he was the right man for the job all along.
"Nobody could've written a script like this," Linda said in February. "It's just remarkable."
So is 1-5 turning into 5-5, and these Colts, still very early in Ballard's ambitious rebuild, climbing back into the playoff picture the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
"We dug ourselves a hole, and we've dug ourselves out of the hole," Reich told his team after the win. "Our eyes can see over the horizon, but now we got a mountain to climb."
There's a lot of season left. Same as he did at their lowest point, Reich likes his team's chances.
Call Star reporter Zak Keefer at (317) 444-6134 and follow him on Twitter: @zkeefer.