CHARLOTTE – Moments before Frank Reich walked up to address the media for the first time as head coach on Tuesday, the 61-year-old former NFL quarterback made a point to pause to shake hands with seven current players in attendance.
Reich kicked off his press conference, which was full of ideas and plans for the future, by greeting the players he'll be leading – perhaps a symbol of what will be essential to his chances at success.
Three team captains from last year, Taylor Moton, Donte Jackson, and Jeremy Chinn, as well as Ikem Ekwonu, Brady Christensen, Chuba Hubbard, and Marquis Haynes Sr., sat in front-row chairs to hear from their new head coach. He can present his plan of what he's looking to do in his second stop as an NFL head coach after five seasons with the Colts. But getting players to buy in and execute his plan will be the key.
"The vision is clear as we've talked with (general manager) Scott Fitterer and with Mr. (David) Tepper," Reich said in his opening statement. "It's to create a brand of excellence; create this consistency of excellence that, at the top end, is championships. And at the bottom end, we're a playoff team."
Reich appeared to be a fan of numbered, linear plans throughout his conference, consistently detailing three-, four-, or five-step philosophies.
He described four pillars to building a championship team – ownership, players, coaches, and fans – and mentioned that the Panthers already have a good base to start building.
"I'm really excited about the roster that we have and the roster that we're going to continue to build," Reich said. "This is what it's all about for me; it's about the relationship and the connection with the players. We give trust to each other right away, but then we continue to gain trust in each other as we work through and go through this journey together."
Reich later directed a message toward the roster that demonstrated what he'd mentioned about not being a "one-man show" as head coach, fostering competition, and focusing on the team.
It was another list of numbered steps, Reich's "three principles to be great," he explained.
"The first is a relentless pursuit to get better every day," he said. "We've got to have a relentless pursuit to get better every day. Nothing can ever get in the way of that. We're committed to push each other in every way; we've got to get better every day. No one has all the answers. We work together, we collaborate, and we push each other to be the best.
"The second one is that excellence comes through competition. We're going to compete in everything we do – in meetings, in the weight room, on the practice field. That's the way you get to be the best. … Lastly, it's going to be about the team, the team, the team. We will celebrate; we've got great individual players. They'll hit many individual milestones and goals, and we'll celebrate all those. But the team always comes first."
Reich has had a limited amount of time to take in the Panthers' current roster and formulate his evaluations, and he said he looks forward to diving into more of the study.
But Reich said one thing that quickly stood out was Carolina's defense, which he called "a real strong suit."
"The secret sauce is (to) create and build upon the momentum that we have here – the players, the roster that we have here on defense," Reich said. "(We have to) get the right coaches, so we have the right scheme that accentuates their gifts."
Reich, an offensive-minded coach with history as a Super Bowl-winning offensive coordinator with the Eagles, said he also saw plenty to build upon with the Panthers' dominant offensive line, strong run game, and cast of wide receivers who can get down the field.
"It's a passing league, but you have to run the ball to be a championship team," Reich said. "There's exceptions to that, but when you look at the analytics, the statistics over the years, you've got to be effective running the football and efficient running the football. So that's one of the reasons I'm excited about this roster.
"I know we can do that; we'll get the pass game right, but I know we can run the football. And we're going to run the football because that just builds off the play-action, off the RPO stuff, all the movement stuff."
Reich continued to describe another pillar of his offensive philosophy – the need for an offense to have the ability to go vertical down the field.
"It's hard to go 14-play drives all the time," he said. "You've got to get chunk plays down the field. So we need to be able to run the ball, have play-action off it. We can get vertical, have the kind of players and quarterback that can do that."
After sharing his plans for the future, Reich stepped off the stage and went right back over to the end of the front row to talk to his new players. Philosophies can go far, but getting everything in motion is the next step on deck.
And that step is one of the most critical.