Like most Colts fans, I was excited when I heard Bruce Arian’s successor as Offensive Coordinator was Andrew Luck’s former coach. After all, who better than the person who directed his offense in college to know what he’s capable of? They’re already on the same page, using mostly the same terminology and similar plays that they’d run together back in Stanford. Guaranteed success, right?
It hasn't exactly been working out like we had hoped.
Truth be told, I was hoping this off-season that some team (NFL or college) would offer him their head coaching position so we wouldn't have to endure another year of slow starts, bland play-calling, and looks of confusion each week. And based on some of the comments over the past year, I wasn’t the only one.
After two years of "PepBall," it’s time to try something else. Some might say that this is an over-reaction due to the rocky start this season, but this is something that many in the StampedeBlue community have been saying for a long time.
In no particular order, here are some of the reasons why the Pep Hamilton Experiment needs to end—and soon.
A Quarterback Should Understand what a Quarterback Needs
Pep Hamilton was a quarterback in high school and college. Most people don’t realize that. He was on the Howard University team [the Bison] from 1993-1996, though finding any actual college stats for him has been difficult. I honestly don’t know if he was the starting QB at all during his time there or if he rode the pine the whole time. If anyone can direct me to that information, I'd appreciate it.
However, the point is that since he played the QB position (and won the scholar/athlete award in ‘95 and ‘96), Pep Hamilton ought to have some idea about how the position is played. He ought to have some clue about what things work against certain defenses and what things don’t. He ought to be able to understand how to play to a QB’s strengths. In short, he ought to know how to call plays that work with Andrew Luck instead of against him (seven-step drops when your O-line could get beat by molasses in January?).
He’s played QB before, so he of all people ought to know that when your O-line isn’t protecting you well, you need to get rid of the ball quickly. But for some reason, he calls plays that go completely against what ought to be obvious to him.
A Quarterbacks Coach Should Help a Quarterback Improve
Pep Hamilton’s first job in coaching came at his alma mater after he graduated. He joined the staff as the QB coach, and served in that capacity for two years before being promoted to Offensive Coordinator/QB coach. He served as assistant QB coach of the New York Jets for two years and San Francisco 49ers for one, and as the full QB coach of the Chicago Bears for three years. After a year as Wide Receivers coach at Stanford, Hamilton was promoted to Offensive Coordinator/QB coach. This is the position he had when the Colts brought him on board.
Thanks for the history lesson, right? The point is that it’s not like he’s new to working with quarterbacks. The role of the QB coach is to help your QB improve. So, Pep Hamilton should be able to make Andrew Luck improve as a QB. (I know Pep isn’t the QB coach, but as the OC, he should still be able to do things that cause Luck to improve).
He does not have a proven track record of helping quarterbacks improve—especially at the NFL level. Let me name the quarterbacks he’s worked with: Chad Pennington, Quincy Carter, Brooks Bollinger, Alex Smith (before Harbaugh got a hold of him), Brian Griese, Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton, and Jay Cutler. Their average QB rating during the years he was coaching them: 74.8. And if we leave off his very first year as a QB coach in the NFL (Pennington had a 91 rating), it goes down to a 71.
With Pep Hamilton’s help, Rex Grossman got a 66.4 quarterback rating, and then the next year went down to 59.7. Chad Pennington went from a 91 to a 70.9. In other words, the quarterbacks regressed under his watchful eye.
Some folks have used the word "regressed" when speaking of Luck’s play this year. But even if we ignore that, there are correctable areas of Luck’s game that simply haven’t been corrected. And part of the blame needs to be put on Pep Hamilton for not doing what is necessary to help Luck improve in those areas—perhaps because Hamilton isn’t capable of doing that.
Hamilton Does Not have a Proven Track Record as Offensive Coordinator.
When he was the QB coach at Howard (1997-1998), the team posted back-to-back 7-4 records. But when he got promoted to Offensive Coordinator, they went 5-6, 3-8, and then 2-9. The team regressed each year that Hamilton was the OC.
He bounced around the NFL as a QB coach before landing the WR coaching gig under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. He was promoted to OC the next season, as Harbaugh moved on to the NFL. Hamilton was given the keys to an offense that already featured Andrew Luck and some other now-Colts. In essence, his job was just to continue what the previous OC had been doing that led Stanford to a 12-1 record the year before. In his two years as OC, they went 11-2 and 12-2.
The question before us now is this: did Hamilton really get that much better as an OC between his years at Howard and at Stanford? Or did he simply inherit a really good offense and simply keep the ship going?
This is a very relevant question, since when he came to Indianapolis, he inherited an offense that was already pretty good. It really seems as though he’s just been trying to keep the ship going (and not really doing a good job of it). Meanwhile, the offense seems to be regressing.
Hamilton is not Creative
I’m not talking about trick plays and gimmick plays. If you’ve seen any Colts games from the past two years, you know what I’m talking about. His play-calling is predictable and obvious. "Hey, we’re bringing in an extra lineman. That means we’re going to run it." And then, of course, they run it. He might as well just grab the referee’s mic and announce to the crowd, "We’re about to hand it off to our RB. Thank you."
Literally hundreds of comments have been made asking why Pep doesn’t call screen passes, quick throws, QB options, etc. The Colts start slow every game (more on that later), and it seems like Pep is incapable of realizing that in order to get momentum going, he needs to start changing some plays around. But no, we’re stuck with the same old same old. It’s possible to call plays that give Andrew Luck a three-step drop. And with the O-Line in the shape that it is, plays need to be called that allow him to get rid of the ball as fast as possible.
This is inexcusable.
Hamilton is Responsible for the Slow Starts.
This isn’t me making something up or using guesswork. He said it himself. And I wanted to grab him and force him to read through all the comments and fanposts from the past two years—because he doesn't seem to understand why they kept starting slow. Um, maybe it’s because you use the same gameplan each week and other teams pretty much know what you’re going to do because you don’t change things around and play to the strengths of your offense (or to counteract the weaknesses of your offense).
Pep Hamilton also said this, according to the Indianapolis Star:
"I have not put our guys in position to be successful and to put our guys in position to produce."
"Now that we have more data and more film to study with regard to who we're facing this Sunday, I think we'll have a better idea of exactly what to expect. You never know what you're going to get on gameday. But there shouldn't be as many unknowns."
Pep's excuse is that they didn't have enough game film to have a good game plan?!?!
I thought about adding another point: "Hamilton is stubborn" and won’t make the changes he needs to make. But it just might be that Pep Hamilton is the same guy who coached the Howard Bison offense down to a 2-9 record by his third season there. Given that he can't seem to figure out why they’re starting slowly (and it hasn't just been this year, Pep), it might just be that his stature as a good OC comes exclusively from twice coming to a team that already had Andrew Luck and a pretty decent cast.
Maybe, just maybe, he's been riding Andrew Luck's coattails the past five years.
Putting it All Together
Pep Hamilton does not have a proven track record of success. The only real success he’s had was when he stepped into a situation that was already successful. Quarterbacks do not seem to improve under his tutelage. His game-planning is predictable, and he doesn’t make adjustments when needed, and then he wonders why the Colts have such problems with slow starts.
By all accounts, Pep Hamilton is a nice guy who is quite smart. But he’s in over his head. He’s really just not that good at his job.
And unless he has completely changed since this past Sunday, he needs to go.
I'm sure you can all add more to this, so leave a comment and give your thoughts.