Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, left, celebrates with offensive coordinator Bruce Arians after their 28-16 win over the Houston Texans in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Colts fans knew this was coming. Some saw it looming on the horizon by week 10 of the regular season. Bruce Arians, 9-3 when he filled in for his friend, Chuck Pagano, is now a head coach. The Cardinals are getting a very likeable coach with great motivational and leadership skills.
Indianapolis, however, is left with another vacancy to fill. With a young offense lead by a second year franchise quarterback, the wrong choice could be detrimental to the growth of this team. So, who is out there? Who is available?
Update: According to Chris Mortensen of ESPN, Stanford Offensive Coordinator and QB Coach Pep Hamilton is likely the current frontrunner for the position. I will add Hamilton to the rest of the options below, a s he is the first confirmed candidate mentioned. So, while I spent time looking at coaches who either had connections to the current staff or were mentioned by a respected football reporter, the Colts have had their eye on someone with connections to Andrew Luck. Was this Grigson's plan all along? We could find out very soon. More on Hamilton below.
More news on the matter will break in the coming days, but for now, we will speculate. Quarterbacks Coach Clyde Christensen is a likely frontrunner because of his experience and the stability factor, although his hiring would leave a crucial void at his current position.
According to Paul Kuharsky of ESPN’s AFC South Blog (do read his article), some of the experienced coaches available include:
Cincinnati receivers coach Hue Jackson, former Browns coach Pat Shurmur, former Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, former Baltimore coordinator Cam Cameron and former Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey.
Another interesting prospect is the venerable Tom Moore, who just parted ways with the Tennessee Titans. Since the Broncos have already promoted Adam Gase to be their new coordinator, Indianapolis looks like a very intriguing prospect for Moore, although there is no way of knowing yet if the front office will consider him.
Since little is known thus far aside from the news about Hamilton, let’s look at some of the Colts options, keeping in mind this is purely speculation so far.
Option 1: Promoting from Within
Clyde Christenson is a holdover from Tony Dungy’s coaching staff. After a year as Dungy’s OC in Tampa Bay, he worked under Tom Moore as Indianapolis’s receivers coach from 2002-2008. Christensen then took over the coordinator position from Moore and held it from 2009-2011 (an unusual, gradual takeover that some say began in 2008). When the team ushered a new era in 2012, Christensen remained on the staff as the quarterbacks coach, helping to mentor Andrew Luck, and even taking over for Arians in the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
In his previous stint calling plays in Indy, Christensen’s offenses were ranked 9th, 4th, and 30th in yards gained and 7th, 4th, and 28th in scoring (Pro Football Reference), the final year being 2011, when the Colts quarterbacks were…below average. Like his predecessor, Tom Moore, Christensen appeared to be just as aware of his offense’s weaknesses as their strengths, making the system work for the players as opposed to the other way around (I’m excluding 2011 here because they avoided changing the offense in hopes that a certain quarterback could return).
Promoting Christensen would mean many of the plays and terminology that the players learned last season could remain in place, even if he planned to make changes. Christensen could be the best option for a smooth transition, possibly one with very little adjustment at all for the players.
Option 2: The Fan Favorite
One man a great many Colts fans would love to see back with the team is Tom Moore, who has been let go by the Titans. Rumor has it he’s looking for another offensive coordinator position. Though it may be a pipe dream in the end, the 74-year-old coach is widely regarded as an offensive mastermind and will be a welcome sight wherever lands.
Moore was with the Colts as the offensive coordinator, senior offensive coordinator, and senior offensive assistant (after Christensen took over) from 1998-2010. In his time with the team, the offense had an average overall ranking of 9.2, with only two seasons outside of the top 10.
Moore loves the no-huddle, loves to keep opposing defenses on their heels, and knows how to maximize the strengths and mask the weaknesses of his players. Moore favors a vertical attack, but like Christensen, is not afraid to make adjustments.
He also has quite an affinity for Andrew Luck, with whom he met and studied film extensively during the time leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft (according an interview with Michelle Tafoya posted on PFT). Here’s Moore he had to say about Luck in the interview:
Number one, he’s very intelligent. He’s extremely intelligent. Second, he’s from a football family. In the classroom, he has the things you’re looking for. He has recall. You go over something on Monday, and on Friday when you put in the tapes he has instant recall. If I was still coaching I’d love to have him because he can do the things I like to do: audibles at the line of scrimmage; no-huddle. He has a great awareness of what’s happening.
The timing of Tom Moore’s departure from Tennessee has some Colts fans dreaming of Manning’s old mentor returning to help Andrew Luck make opposing defenses look silly and helpless. Moore’s age could be a deterrent, but his qualifications and connections to the Colts organization (though not the current front office) make him a very intriguing possibility.
Option 3: The Outside Hire
Update: As we mentioned above, Stanford QB coach and Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton has been reported to be the frontrunner for the Colts OC vacancy. Last year, the Colts drafted Andrew Luck's top target at Stanford in TE Coby Fleener and signed his college roommate, WR Griff Whalen as a UDFA. Both players, especially Fleener, looked like smart moves, but also signaled that they weren't gun-shy about putting familiar faces around their new franchise quarterback. Now, they could be looking at the ultimate familiar face in Luck's college offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.
In a time where rookie quarterbacks need to show their worth right away, NFL teams such as Washington, Seattle, and San Francisco are using more college quarterback friendly offenses to ease their young signal callers' transitions to the professional game, and to maximize their strengths. The Colts have done something similar, but with personnel instead of schemes. Therefore, hiring Hamilton as their offensive coordinator could very well be right in line with what they've been doing all along.
So, who is Pep Hamilton? He was a quarterback at Howard Universityfrom 1993-1996, and has had short stints as quarterbacks or receivers coaches for the Jets, 49ers, and Chicago bears (2007-2009), where he worked with Kyle Orton and Jay Cutler. Hamilton then went to Stanford as a receivers coach in 2010, and was promoted to the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator in 2011, working directly with Luck the year before he was drafted, according to his Wikipedia page.
Former IU Football Coach Malcolm “Cam” Cameron has mentored the likes of Antwaan Randle El (as a quarterback for Cameron’s Hoosiers), Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, and Joe Flacco. Like Bruce Arians, he is known for working with young quarterbacks. In his time as an offensive coordinator with the Chargers and Ravens, Cameron helped his teams to a combined 100-57 record. Recently fired by the Pagano’s old team, and passed over by the Jets, Cameron was still available at the time this was written.
Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg could be let go by new head coach Chip Kelly. Mornhinweg’s record as a head coach in Detroit was nothing to write home about (5-27), but he directed some explosive offenses in Philadelphia from 2006-2012, though the play calling responsibilities often rested squarely on Andy Reid. Mornhinweg does have the Grigson connection, and he is accustomed to teaching smaller faster offensive players.
Former Cleveland Browns Head Coach Pat Shurmur worked with Ryan Grigson as a member of the Eagles coaching staff for five of his ten seasons there. He also served as offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams in 2009 and 2010, though his offenses ranked near the bottom of the league both years.
Cincinnati Bengals assistant Hugh Jackson has had three different one-year stints as an offensive coordinator, with the Redskins in 2003, Falcons in 2007, and Raiders in 2010, followed by a year as Oakland’s head coach. His Oakland offenses ranked 6th and 16th in scoring, finishing 8-8 both years. Jackson’s time with Baltimore overlapped Pagano’s in 2008-2009 when he served as the Ravens’ quarterbacks coach.
Former Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey is an offensive guy, but his head coaching record, at 16-32, is working against him. As Atlanta’s offensive coordinator, his teams had an average ranking of 8.75 in scoring offense. In Pittsburg from 2001-2003, his teams averaged a respectable 11th in scoring.
Note: all rankings and stats, including those used to figure averages, come from pro-football-reference.com.
Clyde Christensen seems the likely choice unless either Grigson or Pagano chooses to bring someone with whom they’ve worked in the past. In that case, Cameron and Mornhinweg look like strong possibilities. If they hire from the outside, yours truly is head over heels for the return of Tom Moore. However, with today's news from ESPN, I wouldn't feel bad about the addition of Pep Hamilton, as long as they don't try too hard to run a run-oriented offense when their greatest asset is their quarterback. Time will tell. In the meantime, who do you think they should hire?
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