Doyel: Bond with Frank Reich will pry Speedway's Jeff Brown from home, Colts

Jeff Brown is somewhere on Interstate 74, heading west. He’s a husband and a father of four, and he’ll be in the car for two hours. This is the window he has open, the most efficient usage of his time, and right away you can see why Frank Reich couldn’t leave without him.

You know Reich, even if you don’t know Jeff Brown. Which you probably don’t, unless you were pitching against Speedway High about 25 years ago, and then you know him. He was the guy you couldn’t get out. Brown went onto play for Butler, then coached there, and was going to coach at Brownsburg High before he got the call from The Show. Not that show, but close. Very close.

Anyway, you probably don’t know Jeff Brown, which is your loss. A good man right there. Frank Reich being no dummy, he picked up on that when the Colts sent a van to Indianapolis International Airport in 2018 for his introductory news conference as the team’s coach. Frank and Linda Reich got off Irsay's private jet, climbed into the van he’d sent to bring them to the team complex on 56th Street, and there’s Jeff Brown.

“Hey,” he’s telling the Colts’ new coach, “just wanted to tell you I’m here for you.”

Reich knew who he was. One, Brown had been a ballboy with the Colts during Reich’s first go-around here under Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell from 2006-11. Two, Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard had told Reich all about Brown, which is to say, they’d told him this:

Don’t worry about hiring a director of operations. We have a guy. You’ll see.

Reich saw.

“You talk about trust, competency, character – I just think Jeff is off the charts,” Reich’s telling me this week. “He’s the kind of guy I believe in.”

Don’t read past some of those words: Reich’s telling me this week.

Frank’s busy, you know? Just got hired at Carolina. Putting together a staff, and getting ready for the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine that starts Sunday in Indianapolis. I’m acknowledging as much when Frank calls me back. Thank you, I tell him. I know you’re busy.

“I’m happy to help out,” he says. “I think Jeff Brown special.”

Right now he’s on Interstate 74, this husband and father of four, carving out one last family trip before joining Reich in Carolina. Brown spent the weekend at Great Wolf Lodge in Mason, Ohio, with his wife Leah and their four kids: Marin (9), Callen (7), Braela (4) and Jaelen (2).

He can talk with me now, as he heads back this way on I-74. I hear a peep from someone in the background – probably Braela, that cutie – and then it goes quiet. Just the sound of Jeff Brown describing a life he didn’t see coming, a move he never saw making, and a friend he can’t imagine leaving.

Speedway to Butler to Colts

We happen to life, but life also happens to us. Jeff Brown, 39, can look back and see three clear pivot points.

“When I was thinking about what jobs I wanted,” Brown says, remembering the switch-hitting Speedway shortstop he was from 1998-2001 and the Butler second baseman he became from 2002-06, “Colts operations was not one of them, I can promise you that.”

But life happens. Three pivot points, remember? Jeff’s telling me about them, though there’s a fourth pivot point, one I’m not sure Brown knows about himself. His coach at Butler, Steve Farley, told me about it. Farley had replaced Scott Neat in 1992, but Neat stayed in the area. His wife taught in Speedway. So Neat’s calling Farley one day in 2000 or 2001.

“There’s a kid out here in Speedway,” Neat’s telling Farley. “Good shortstop.”

By then Brown had been a Colts ballboy for two years, falling into it – Pivot Point No. 1 – when a friend at Speedway, Kyle Gergely (now the equipment manager for Purdue football), asked Brown to join him for the 1999 season. Two years later he’s a freshman walking into the Butler baseball offices, telling Farley about that side gig.

“I was going to quit (being a ballboy)” Brown says of Pivot Point No. 2. “Baseball was my passion, my dream. That was it. If I could do something with the Colts, nice. But if he’d said, ‘I need your focus to be here,’ I’d have left the Colts.”

Farley tells him it’s fine, they’ll work it out. Brown keeps the Colts ballboy gig for years, even as he’s playing for Farley through 2006 and coaching with him until 2011, when he went to Brownsburg to coach baseball.

Doyel:Little moments from Shane Steichen's intro that could mean nothing... or everything

Along the way he’d gone after a full-time position with the Colts, interviewing in 2009 for a scouting role, but the Colts chose Andrew Berry, now GM of the Browns. The Colts director of player personnel then, current Chargers GM Tom Telesco, told Brown he’d come in second.

“I just thought he was being nice,” Brown says.

Two years later Brown’s in the Brownsburg school system, waiting for baseball season, coaching alongside former big-leaguer Brian Dorsett for the Terre Haute Rex of the Prospect League. They’re driving to a game in Springfield, Ill., when Brown gets a call from Telesco’s boss, Chris Polian, offering a job in the Colts’ operations department. This was a Friday. The Colts needed someone in that role Monday.

“I didn’t know what to say to Brian (Dorsett),” Brown’s telling me from somewhere along I-74, about to describe Pivot Point No. 3. “He’d overheard the conversation some and knew what was going on. He looked at me at me and said: ‘That’s what it feels like to be called up to the big leagues. You’ve got to go.’”

Yes, Jeff Brown told the Colts. He’d become assistant manager for operations.

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” he says.

Four coaches, three GMs, one Super Bowl

He’s seen a lot, Jeff Brown.

For Super Bowl 44 against New Orleans, in February 2010, the NFL gave the Colts 108 game balls and 10 days to get them ready. Brown, still coaching at Butler, brought the Bulldogs to the Colts complex. What’s something you didn’t know about the Colts’ most recent trip to the Super Bowl? The Butler baseball team played for hours with those game balls, scuffing them to Peyton Manning’s specifications.

Since 2011 Brown has worked for coaches Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell, Chuck Pagano and Frank Reich, and for general managers Bill Polian, Ryan Grigson and Chris Ballard. New bosses watched Jeff Brown in action and realized he’s a keeper.

Brown was doing his share of watching, too. He’s always been that way, quiet, observing. Players scolded him over the years as a ball boy, asking him in various ways, “What are you looking at?”

“I just wanted to learn,” Brown says now. “I didn’t talk to Frank (Reich) much when he was here the first time, but I knew he was good. I could always tell by who Peyton trusted. If Peyton looked at you and was asking for more information, that must be a guy.”

Brown became Frank’s guy in 2018, managing the travel – “Every plane, every bus, every hotel,” Reich says – and the sprawling complex on 56th Street.

“The owner, head coach, general manager and players all expect operations to be 100% – and nothing’s ever 100%, right? – and when it’s not, Jeff gets the heat,” Reich says. “He’s the head coach of the whole operation. I saw Jeff handle that role with complete strength and grace. He’s got very high emotional intelligence. I saw him to be a problem solver. There are things out of your control, things that come up, and you’ve got to figure things out.

“We figured a lot of things out together.”

The Colts fired Reich on Nov. 7.

Frank Reich and Jeff Brown

They weren’t just Coach and Director of Ops. They were Frank and Jeff. One day during the 2018 season, Reich’s first year, Brown had an issue that was troubling him and asked Reich, a pastor, for a few minutes. This was a Friday during the season.

“He turned it into, ‘Hey, let’s sit down, let’s talk about this. Let me share some scripture with you. Let me pour into you,’” Brown says. “It was really surreal. He’s got so much going on, but you just saw the joy he got out of it, teaching me, pouring into me. That’s probably the moment.”

The moment Brown knew, is what he’d meant. That’s the story he told me after I’d asked: When did Frank become more than just a coach for you?

They saw a lot together, Brown and Reich. Five quarterbacks in five years. Renovations to the complex in 2018. The COVID seasons of 2020 and ‘21. Reich was fired in November, and after the season Brown reached out to him, saying he’d like to join him if Reich took a coaching job elsewhere.

“He just beat me to it,” Reich says. “I would’ve initiated with him when I got the job here (in Carolina), if he hadn’t done it first.”

After all those unexpected pivot points, his life heading into new directions, Brown was looking to make a pivot of his own – but not one he could’ve predicted a few years ago. Not leaving Indianapolis. His parents, Decatur Central sweethearts Claude and Anita, are still in the area. Claude played baseball for Phil Webster at Decatur Central while his brother, Mark, played on Devere Fair’s undefeated football teams in the late 1960s.

Jeff Brown had reasons to stay. But he had a reason to go, too.

“I’m a competitor,” says Brown, the 2001 All-Marion County shortstop after hitting .512 and leading Speedway to the Class 2A title game. “I’ve been in this role for 11 years. We talked about me doing the same things (in Carolina), but also me learning the game a little more. I’m a baseball guy. Let me learn football more there, and see where that takes me. It may not take me anywhere, but I’m willing to give it a shot. I’m willing to bet on myself a little bit, and just to grow.”

This is late in our phone conversation, and I’m remembering he nearly got a scouting job with the Colts when he was 27. He’s only 39 now, plenty of time for a career switch. Is that, I’m asking, what he’s talking about?

“We’ll see,” he says on I-74, now across the border and into Indiana. “Anything is possible. The more I can learn, the more I can put on my resume, I can go any direction. Right now it looks like, ‘He’s not going anywhere, he’s been there his whole life.’ What could it look like in 5 or 10 years?”

Reich turns 62 during the 2023 NFL season. Nothing lasts forever, and Brown wants to be ready for whatever pivot point comes next. Eventually, that is. No hurry. For now, he’ll run the football operations for Reich in Carolina.

“I’m with Frank until he’s done,” Brown says. “That’s my goal, and then we’ll see what happens.”

Find IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or at

More: Join the text conversation with sports columnist Gregg Doyel for insights, reader questions and Doyel's peeks behind the curtain.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Who is Jeff Brown of Colts, why did he follow Frank Reich to Carolina?