Mike Reichenbach always knew how to get the most of what he had.
Never a star player in high school, and ignored by the big colleges, he stayed close to home at East Stroudsburg University.
Undrafted out of college, he signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles where he played for six years and became the middle linebacker and signal caller for Buddy Ryan’s outstanding defenses in the late 1980s.
Now, in a different surrounding, Reichenbach is in 25th year of coaching the football team at Calvert Christian Academy, a small private school in the Northeast section of Philadelphia.
“Never,’’ Reichenbach says with a laugh when asked if he knew he would be a high school coach. “I never thought I would do this. When I was playing, I never looked past the next day.
“But football was my identity. I was heavy as a kid, and made fun of. Then football bridged the gap to me being accepted. I got better at it. I wasn’t a great high school player, that’s why I went to East Stroudsburg.’’
And he signed with the Eagles, because. . .
“They were the only ones who offered me a signing bonus,’’ he said. “And, I needed a car.’’
Reichenbach spent six years with the Eagles, the last four (1986-89) in the middle of Ryan’s defense that featured the likes of Reggie White, Jerome Brown, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, Eric Allen, Wes Hopkins and Andre Waters.
He left for Miami as a free agent, played two years for the Dolphins, under Don Shula, and then went to camp with the San Francisco 49ers in 1992.
That’s when it all changed.
“It just wasn’t fun anymore,’’ he said. “At that point I had given my life to Christ. It changed everything. I went out there because Jeff Fisher (his former coordinator in Philadelphia) was out there and he called me and said they have a chance to go to the Super Bowl, but they need some linebackers.
“But after four weeks of camp, I knew I wasn’t really into it. The Lord put in my heart it was time to go. We played a preseason game in Denver and that was it. I knew I was finished playing. I went into coach (George) Seifert and told him. He told me to take some time and think about it, but I knew.’’
The rest of the league didn’t. After the 49ers released him, the Green Bay Packers called.
“It was tempting, because Reggie was there,’’ Reichenbach said. “And I often wonder what if, because they did win a Super Bowl. But I had made up my mind.’’
While White was often quoted as saying it was God who told him to go to Green Bay, the Lord had other plans for Reichenbach.
“The crazy thing was at that time I was about a million dollars in debt,’’ he said. “I was crazy. I was out seven nights a week. I got involved in some bad deals. I had a restaurant that went bad. I really didn’t have a lot of direction. It was all about the lifestyle, the partying.
“I was having this argument with God. If I play this year I can get out of debt. He said it’s time to go. I never claimed bankruptcy and I’m still not sure how it happened, but I got out of debt. God found a way.
“Now what do I do?’’
He went to church.
“I came here one day and the Pastor told me they wanted to start a football team,’’ he said of the start of Calvary Christian’s program in 1995. “That’s where the Lord called me.’’
Calvary started with a 7th grade program, developed into a JV team and now has a full-fledged varsity program that has appeared in the PIAA state tournament a few times.
“Our first game was against Council Rock middle school,’’ Reichenbach said of a known power in Bucks County. “Our kids came up to their belly buttons. But we scored first and for most of the game we led 6-0. They came back and beat us 8-6, but it was a start.’’
Now 25 years later he’s still at it.
“I love the kids,’’ he said. “The game, you see the bad and the good. Most coaches motivate by fear, because it gets a quick response. But it becomes disruptive. Kids are scared, and they play scared and they’re afraid to make a mistake. I see very few coaches who care about the kid and where they are going to be five, 10, 20 years from now.
“We don’t coach by the scoreboard, because the scoreboard can lie. We do it differently here. We’re going to strengthen you as people, and strengthen you through God. That’s what it is all about at this school.’’
The players Reichenbach coaches weren’t even born when he was calling out the signals in Ryan’s 46 defense.
“The kids don’t know me, but their dads do,’’ he said. “They’ll tell them I played for the Eagles and they’ll ask me ‘Do you know Donovan (McNabb)? Do you know Mike Vick?’ ’’
Over the years—and 25 is a lot of them for a high school coach, or any coach—he’s grown close to his players.
“It’s Christian Ministry,’’ he said. “These kids tell me things they don’t tell their teachers or their parents. We spend so much time with them. They earn that trust. It’s made my life richer.’’
Who would have thought that he’s gotten richer through coaching? He certainly didn’t.
“When I first left the game, Buddy threw out a feeler to my agent to go out to Arizona and coach with him,’’ Reichenbach said. “I wanted to get away from the game. I didn’t want to coach.’’