The first domino fell tonight, as the Indianapolis Colts fired offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and replaced him with Rob Chudzinski. It's only the first of several moves that will be made, but it was the logical first step to take as the 3-5 Colts try to salvage their season.
Many people, however, view Hamilton as the scapegoat, and in a sense they're right. Head coach Chuck Pagano's job is in serious doubt, and with the bye week approaching next week, it makes very little sense to make a coaching change on a short week instead of waiting for the bye next week. That is, of course, unless Hamilton was fired before the bye week intentionally so that Pagano could have a case for sticking around to finish the season. He could argue that he did make changes and that they need time to see how those work. That's not to say that I think Pagano is particularly safe from getting fired mid-season, but I can't help but wonder whether that was part of the motivation for the move.
More than that, however, many have labeled Hamilton a scapegoat because of Andrew Luck's struggles. After all, it wasn't Hamilton that made the stupid decision to throw into traffic for an interception and it wasn't Hamilton who completely misfired to open receivers. That's all on Andrew Luck, and as a result many see Hamilton as a scapegoat.
But I think it can be both, not just either/or. That is, why can't we just say that both Andrew Luck AND Pep Hamilton have struggled? We so often tend to turn it into a situation where only one thing can be true, but in this situation both are. Andrew Luck has struggled. Pep Hamilton has struggled. Both are true.
Before we go any further, I think also think that the "Andrew Luck has struggled" argument gives a lot of insight as to why the Colts fired Hamilton, too. This isn't just any average player - this is the Colts' franchise player who looked well on his way to become one of the NFL's best quarterbacks for years to come and entering Canton after a successful career. But this year, Luck has regressed and has been flat out bad, nowhere close to the MVP candidate that most thought he would be. More than anything else, that HAS to be the most concerning thing for the Colts moving forward. Their franchise quarterback has been among the worst in the league this year, and everything else takes a backseat to those issues because those are concerns that could impact the next decade-plus if they don't change. Andrew Luck hasn't developed like pretty much everyone thought he would. That's not to say that he won't figure things out and turn it around, whether this year or next, but with Pep Hamilton as the offensive coordinator this year Luck has regressed. Whether that's because of Pep or not is up to discussion and something we might not ever find out for sure, but the Colts have to do whatever they can to ensure that their star quarterback shines again. It doesn't look like Luck has been coached well this year, and whether that's the real issue or not, the Colts can't afford to take chances that it might be the case.
It goes beyond just the struggles of Andrew Luck, however, and extends to the offense that Hamilton was trying to run. He didn't always use personnel correctly, such as the tight ends. The Colts have one of the league's most talented tight end combos in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, but Hamilton struggled to incorporate them into the offense this year. There were also the times when he had some confusing calls, such as continually having Luck undergo long dropbacks even though it wasn't working. Part of that is due to Luck holding on to the football too long, but Hamilton had him doing much longer dropbacks than Matt Hasselbeck was doing earlier in the year. The Colts also wanted to stick with the run game more, maintaining balance instead of just abandoning it at the first sight of a deficit. They did this on Monday night (and it didn't work because Luck was beyond awful), but that was an issue at points this year too. Perhaps the most glaring issue came to light once again on Monday night, however, as the Colts' offense looked terrible until going up-tempo late in the game, at which point they mounted a comeback. Luck and this offense have the talent to run a hurry-up, fast-paced offense, and they have actually been at their best when doing so. They have done that very rarely this year, though, only resorting to it when needing to mount a big comeback. In fact, it sounds like it was this point that had a notable role in the Colts' decision to fire Hamilton. This is what ESPN's Mike Wells (who first broke the news of Hamilton's firing) wrote on Tuesday night:
"One person in the organization told ESPN.com that they had been asking to Hamilton to play with tempo for more than two weeks but that their suggestions weren't being received."
In short, Hamilton wasn't the best fit for this offense. He wasn't getting helped out by Andrew Luck whatsoever this year and therefore could indeed be portrayed as a scapegoat, but at the same time Hamilton wasn't helping the Colts out much, wasn't utilizing his personnel correctly, and wasn't giving the Colts much of an advantage. Add to that the struggles of Luck and concerns regarding how well he was being coached, and it's no surprise that Pep Hamilton was shown the door. It needed to happen, and if the Colts wanted to make a move mid-season (and they absolutely did and still might make more), this move figured to be the one that could see the most immediate results.
The bottom line is this: Pep Hamilton is a smart, likable guy who will land on his feet. There's a reason why he was a candidate for head coaching jobs last winter and there's a reason why Vanderbilt wanted him as their head coach a year before that. There's a reason why Gobbler Country, SB Nation's Virginia Tech site, listed Pep Hamilton as a candidate for the Virginia Tech opening. Talk with him for any length of time and you'll realize that he's personable and easy to like, as well as a guy who knows football well, and it's not hard to see why teams have considered him for head coach openings. I have no doubt that Hamilton will land on his feet. But with all of that said, this was a move that needed to happen, because it wasn't working with Hamilton and the Colts. It wasn't the right situation, and Hamilton wasn't the right fit. The franchise is a mess right now and Hamilton was the first domino to fall, set up as a scapegoat to be sure, but the firing was also one explained just as much by his performance on the field and one that needed to happen at some point or another.