Faith and Football: NFL Head Coach Frank Reich’s Christian Education Journey Fosters Success on the Field

NFL head coach Frank Reich is no stranger to comebacks. He holds the records for the largest comeback in NCAA History and in NFL history, both times by replacing the starting quarterback. In 1984, he came off the bench for the University of Maryland and brought them back from a 31–0 halftime deficit to beat the University of Miami 42–40. In 1993, he replaced injured Bills QB legend Jim Kelly in an AFC wildcard game against the Houston Oilers, down by 32 points in the third quarter. Reich and the Bills won 41–38 in overtime. 

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These are incredible feats, but Reich’s journey back to faith after an injury set him toward a greater sense of purpose. This eventually led him to seek Christian education and go into ministry before later heading back to the NFL as a coach. Reich attributes much of his success as a leader today to the Christian education he received as a seminary student:

[Christian education] prepared me to be a head coach in the NFL as much as anything possibly could have. Obviously from the leadership standpoint, but also the process of theological education. Not just the content of what I learned, or the spiritual formation that happened in me, but also the grit and determination. It’s not an easy road.

Reich also cited the attention to details, strong work ethic, and appreciation for excellence that he picked up in seminary as being important qualities to his success.

Reich’s story began in the same way as many others. He was raised in a Christian home, but eventually found other passions that took priority over His faith. He had an athletic gift that led to the NCAA where he backed up Boomer Esiason at QB for Maryland. When his opportunity to start came his senior year, a shoulder injury led to him losing his starting job. The shock of that experience shook up his confidence and created a space for him to re-examine his priorities. Reich told CBN:

I separated my shoulder, and in many respects I felt like this was it, my whole life was going down the tubes. It was through that injury that God rocked my world, and He really brought me to a place where I needed to fall on my knees before Him and confess that football was first in my life. The injury wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t play again. The problem was the guy that took my place played so well that when I got healthy again, they didn’t want to put me back in.

After his college career, the Buffalo Bills drafted Reich in the third round, and he played 14 total seasons in the NFL. Late in his career he started seminary classes in order to develop his faith. He quickly realized that it wasn’t enough for him to just have a testimony to share. Growing up in a family full of teachers, he valued the effectiveness that a solid, biblical education could provide. He pursued His Masters in Divinity and excelled to such a degree that he was asked to become president of the Charlotte campus of the school, Reformed Theological Seminary. 

As important as it was for Frank to learn who he was, it was learning who he was not that laid the groundwork for his future NFL coaching career. After serving as an interim pastor for two years in what felt like the logical conclusion to his seminary education, he came to understand that pastoring was not his calling. He came to a crossroads where he realized that his place of influence and excellence was in between the lines of a football field. 

Reich is a clear example that Christian education isn’t just a benefit to those who end up in vocational ministry. He says, “I came to recognize more and more this false dichotomy between sacred and secular work…every Christian is called to live out their faith in their sphere of influence.”