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The Case for Pep Hamilton

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I dreamed a dream in time gone by... When hope was high...

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Last week Gobbler Country started looking at potential successors to Frank Beamer. The initial contender put forward started with the Hokies potentially trying to convince Ole Miss HC, Hugh Freeze, to leave the SEC and come up to Blacksburg. Next GC explored the option of reaching down to the FCS and promoting from within the state with the James Madison Dukes HC, Everett Withers. Most recently we looked at Temple coach Matt Rhule, who is a mid-major talent that will most certainly be getting attention from bigger programs next year.  Now Gobbler Country will reach all the way up to the NFL and take a look at a man that has already been approached by Virginia Tech in the past. That individual is current Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton.

In early 2013 Virginia Tech was, somewhat quietly, looking for a replacement for Brian Stinespring at OC. One of the largest names associated with this search was Pep Hamilton who was then the OC for the Stanford Cardinals. In the end Mr. Hamilton made the jump from the NCAA to the NFL, taking the Colts OC job. Vanderbilt reached out to Pep in January 2014 hoping to lure him away from the NFL with the opportunity to be a head coach. Hamilton turned the offer down and remained with the Colts.

Why it may not happen:

Last year some considered Pep Hamilton to be the leading head coach candidate in the NFL. He interviewed with the Oakland Raiders for the top coaching job, but Oakland elected to go with the more experienced former Jacksonville Jaguars HC, Jack Del Rio. The Buffalo Bills also showed interest in Hamilton last season, but ended up hiring former New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan. Hamilton’s star has risen rapidly when one considers that in 2010 he was simply the receivers coach at Stanford. Although the teams ended up going with more experienced coaches, Hamilton has generated interest in the professional head coaching arena, and he may not be willing to step down to the NCAA.

In addition to the NFL interest in Pep there will certainly be interest from other NCAA organizations besides the Hokies. Last year Vanderbilt offered the head coaching job to him, but unsurprisingly he was unwilling to leave the NFL for a program of Vanderbilt’s stature. There are several big college programs that will be looking for HC candidates for the 2016 season. In the ACC the Miami-Florida Hurricanes will be searching for a candidate to catapult them back into the discussion of the Florida elite teams. In the SEC the South Carolina Gamecocks could be a factor. The USC Trojans job may also be something that is appealing to Hamilton, particularly because of his experience in the PAC-12.

It is fairly safe to say that there will be attention from several entities for Pep Hamilton. Though, perhaps he may not be interesting in leaving the Colts. Indianapolis is currently sitting on a 3-5 record and is arguably the most disappointing team in the NFL. Many had the Colts pegged as Super Bowl contenders, or even favorites, this season. As it stands now the Colts barely sit atop the AFC South, which is the worst division in the NFL, and is on pace to be the worst division in HISTORY. Although they lead their division the Colts, and head coach Chuck Pagano, became the laughing stock of the National Football League after their inexplicable punt formation/whatever that was against the New England Patriots. To put the Colts performance in perspective consider that the NFL goon squad gold member, Jacksonville Jaguars, are only 1.5 games away from taking the division from the Colts. Even more telling is the Colts performance against the Jaguars.  Earlier in the season Indy had to rely on the Jaguars kicker to miss several easy FGs that would have cemented a Colts loss to the perennial bottom feeders.  Indianapolis is drastically underperforming and this is likely Chuck Pagano’s last season. In fact, if the Colts cannot hold on to the lead in the AFC South, it is entirely feasible that Pagano is fired before the end of the year with Hamilton an interim HC option. Although unlikely, such an action could result in the Colts deciding to promote from within and offer Pep a more permanent option as HC. Even if the Colts decide to look elsewhere, the experience could further grow Hamilton’s stock as a potential HC hire somewhere else in the NFL.

Why it may happen:

As mentioned above the Colts are absolutely nosediving and it is almost certainly Pagano’s last year. Any replacement coach is most likely going to be looking to bring in their own schemes and coaches, and that would leave Hamilton out of a job. Bleacher Report said it best when they described Hamilton’s relationship with the Colt’s fans as complex. SB Nation’s own Stampede Blue has argued that Pep Hamilton’s time at Indy should come to a close. It is arguable that Indy associate HC, Rob Chudzinski, would take over head coaching duties, if Pagano is relieved before season's end. Even if Pagano leaves mid-season and Hamilton is named interim coach he may not be considered to take over as the Colts will likely wish to clean house.

Pep has no HC experience on his resume. As was shown last year, he is respected in NFL circles, but both teams he interviewed with decided to go with more experienced candidates. Obviously the man would like to be a head coach in the NFL, but he may not have an opportunity without that experience. Additionally, the manner in which the Colts have performed this year will likely dim his star a bit. It makes a lot of sense for Pep to garner head coaching experience at the head of a reputable FBS program.

Pep Hamilton has bounced between the NCAA and the NFL a few times. After his work at Howard University he spent time being an assistant or position coaching with the Jets, 49ers, and Bears before heading to Stanford for three years, and then back up to the NFL. I fully believe his end goal is to be an NFL head coach. Looking at the pattern of his movements he has seemingly acted in order to earn experience and move up to the next level. He was the OC/QB coach at Howard then moved up to the NFL and was an offensive assistant/QB coach in the NFL. He then returned to the NCAA as an OC and then jumped back up to the NFL as an OC. It seems logical that he would consider making a similar move as a head coach.

Hamilton already has a past with Virginia Tech, and although other prestigious programs may also look his way, the Hokies may be the most attractive prospect. Virginia Tech’s athletic facilities are second to none, and the school has a fantastic recruiting pool where VT is often the program to beat in the area. The Hokie fan base is legendary. It has been a brutal four years, but the Hokie faithful remain a presence in college football, and an invigorating coach would ignite the fan base to their full potential. More than Miami, more than South Carolina, even more than USC, Virginia Tech provides the opportunity for Hamilton to truly excel, as a Head Coach, and impress the decision makers at the professional level.

What it would mean if he came to Virginia Tech:

Pep Hamilton would immediately turn the heads of recruits in the entire nation. The man would have significant contacts in the NFL, and that is extremely attractive to recruits. Some recognizable names that Hamilton helped develop include Andrew Luck, Zach Ertz, and Doug Baldwin. Pep actually already has established ties in the Washington D.C. area from his Howard days. Hamilton and Stinespring together could be a recruiting tornado. They would surely dominate recruiting in Virginia, and would likely gain a foothold in places that VPI has not normally found influence. In addition to improving recruiting, it would be easy to expect that he could pull significant coaching talent to work under him for the same reasons.

Pep Hamilton would introduce offensive expertise never known in Blacksburg. The Hokies have historically been renowned for their special teams and defensive play. They have had offensive talent, but never have they been known for their offensive prowess. At Stanford, and clearly at Indianapolis, Hamilton has run pro-style offenses. That would likely not change, so players familiar and comfortable with the pro-style would not suffer a significant shock, with regards to updated offensive strategy.

Make no mistake; Pep Hamilton wants to be a head coach in the NFL. I fully believe that he would create an extremely successful VT squad that would not only be a power in the ACC, but likely a force to consider in the College Football Playoff. As a result, I feel that Virginia Tech would be very successful under Hamilton, but he would eventually leave VT for an NFL head coaching job. The administration, fan base, and student athletes would need to be prepared for that eventuality.

In closing, the reality is that Pep Hamilton will really only be available for next year. The man has too much experience and too much ability to sit idle. Considering the status of the Colts, it is unlikely that he will be with Indy next year. He does not have head coaching experience on any level, and that is the biggest knock against him at the professional level. I am extremely sure that the man will be a head coach in the FBS next year. The real question is whether or not Beamer decides to step down, or is asked to step down, and the administration is willing to make a play, and pay, for a talent like Pep Hamilton.