- Eric D. Williams, ESPN Staff Writer
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SAN DIEGO -- At first blush, Frank Reich and Muhammed Ali appear to have little in common.
Reich, a former longtime NFL quarterback, recently took over as offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers, replacing the departed Ken Whisenhunt, who took over as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans.
"Any time you have a new coordinator or a new position coach there's always going to be some type of change -- whether it's in the meeting room or on the practice field," San Diego head coach Mike McCoy said. "It's going to be great to sit down with him every day and go over some new ideas, because you're always trying to do what you're players do best."
Here's where the similarities to the man known as the "The Greatest" come into play: Reich compares controlling the tempo of his team's offense to the sport known as the sweet science at the height of Ali's reign as heavyweight world champion.
"I liken it to a boxing match," Reich said. "Every game is a prize fight. And over a 15-round fight, you mix the tempo. There's sometimes you go in and there's a flurry, you're aggressive and you've got somebody on the ropes. You keep your poise and go for the kill.
"Then there's other times that you slow the tempo down. Maybe you've taken a punch, so you rope-a-dope a little bit. You say, 'Geez, we've just got to get through this half, or get through this series.' It's third-and-20 and you hand the ball off. Everybody boos, but sometimes you have to do that. If you're at the end of the round and if you try and throw a knockout blow, you might get knocked out yourself -- and they might score a touchdown and separate that much more.
"So I think that's very, very important -- to be able to mix the tempo. But even when you're slowing it down, there still has to be crispness to the execution, and to the play."
Reich, 52, says to expect little change in one of the most efficient NFL offenses from 2013 with him taking over the reins. He'll continue to trust in quarterback Philip Rivers -- whom he calls one of the smartest quarterbacks in the NFL -- to lead the offense.
"My communication with Frank is awesome," Rivers said. "We communicated a lot last year, so it's really been a seamless transition from the standpoint of what we're doing, what's expected and how we're going to operate.
"Frank being in a similar-style offense both as a player and as a coach really just makes for a smooth process -- easy to make adjustments and change things on the run as we see them. He really thinks and calls plays like a quarterback. And I know I'm real comfortable with that."
The Chargers finished tops in in the NFL last season in third-down conversions (49 percent), No. 5 total yards (393.3 per game), No. 10 in giveaways (21) and No. 12 in scoring (24.8 points per game).
Reich says he's won't try and reinvent the wheel for the upcoming season. The Chargers' focus will be accentuating the playmakers on the field, figuring out innovative ways to take advantage of the offense's core strengths.
"I'm not trying to make it my offense," Reich said. "I look at it as this is our offense. And what Mike really stresses as a head coach, and him being a very successful, longtime offensive coach, is figuring out what your players do best, and that's our offense.
"We've got an exceptional quarterback who can handle a lot. So because everything kind of filters through him, it gives us the opportunity to really be a well-balanced offense. We'll throw it when we want to throw it, but run it when we want to run it."
Reich said he'll remain part of the quarterback room, even with Nick Sirianni taking over as the team's quarterbacks coach. And the mechanics of game days will be similar. Calling plays for Reich should not be an issue. He called plays while leading the K-Gun (a hurry-up offense) for Buffalo back in his playing days.
One player the Chargers did not have for most of last season is Malcom Floyd. Considered a long shot to return to the field three months ago after suffering a serious neck injury early in the 2013 season, the 32-year-old receiver has been cleared for full contact, and looks like he will give San Diego's offense an added boost based on his play during the team's first few offseason practices.
"It's huge," Reich said. "Not only is he a great player, but Philip has a ton of confidence in Malcom. They've got a lot of miles together out on that football field. So I can see it when he throws to him. They know each other. They know what they're doing, so that part is fun."
1hEric D. Williams