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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Bringing a young guy like Pep Hamilton may have the advantage of fresh ideas but Colts may end up keeping him for only 2-3 years. If the offense becomes pretty good then we will start hearing rumors every year that he is interviewed for HC jobs, kind of like Josh McDaniels.
By bringing a former HC on the other hand, they run the risk of losing him too because most of the former head coaches use the period of being coordinators to remake themselves or rather make people forget how awful they were and get another shot at HC.
From the list you out out, I would feel pretty good about Jackson, Moore, and Christensen. I have no interest in Mornhinweg or Childress, despite there west coast background since Mornhinweg is known for questionable calls and Childress is very conservative. Christensen is a safe choice and seems to understand what he has better than Arians. I liked the way Jackson ran the offense in Oakland with the little talent he had at QB, and Moore can finally bring the element of the no huddle that we have desperately sought
Whoa - Mort just tweeted that Stanford's OC is a leading candidate. We need some research data and stats, um ...STAT! To the Googler!
Of the choices listed, Moore is certainly my favorite choice. However, I think Grigson and Pagano are good enough at what they do, that this hire could come from nowhere. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see a first time OC get a chance. Someone that they feel has a good, creative mind. Perhaps even a college guy. I just don't see that if I were in the Colts FO I would love any of these choices. I'd go a completely different way.
While I would never fault a coach for taking a "promotion" I'm still a little suprised that Arians left for the Cardinals job. Besides the fact that they have no QB and perhaps an even worse (if that is possible) offensive line situation than the Colts... they are set! And at Arians age... oh well.
I think that Chrsitensen would do a "solid" job, But I'm hoping that the Colts will hire someone a little more creative and aggressive. I'm not going to pretend that I can evaluate a coach, but I will say that failing as a head coach, should not be held against a coach being hired as an OC. Being a head coach is a completely different skill set than being a coordinator... and those failed head coaches had to have shown ability as coordinators or they would have never gotten a head coaching job to begin with.
Please, do not bring in Cameron. Or any former HCs for that matter. To paraphrase what Nate said in a previous article, Luck is going to make the next OC a genius. I'd rather have a guy who will stick around a few years than one who will use his success to get another HC job.
Would it be possible to promote Christensen and then also bring in Tom Moore as a consultant? They've worked together before so I can't imagine there would be much conflict.
@codrutc Very strong points being made today. I originally thought they'd be safe from the whole head coach aspirations thing with the 60 yr old Bruce Arians, but things changed dramatically while Pagano was being treated, as we all know.
If they end up hiring him, I just hope that ambition toward being a head coach is the only similarity between Hamilton and Josh McDaniels.
@RobertItoh I can't take credit for the list. Most of those names, of course came from Paul Kuharsky, other than Hamilton (Moretnsen), and Moore (yours truly - possible wishful thinking there).
I agree about Mornhinweg. He only had full play calling duties for a season and a half or so in Philly, from what I read about him.
I think you may have a good point about Jackson. It didn't seem like he got a fair shake in Oakland, where they fired his boss, promoted him, then promptly fired him - all in two seasons.
@RobertItoh I think that Luck runs the no huddle, 2-minute drill pretty well, my biggest concern is Luck's development in a pro-offense. I just hope they bring someone in who is similar/familiar to Bruce Arians' system so that he can develop a style. Christensen might be the best option. Although rumor has it Stanford's OC is a leading candidate....
@matt_has Okay, Pep Hamilton is a former Howard University QB (yes, the same as Bethea, but Hamilton graduated in 96). He's been a qb and wr coach for a few different NFL teams before he arrived at Stanford. Here's his coaching history from Wikipedia:
97-01 Howard, qb coach
99-01 Howard, qb and OC
2003 NYJ Offensive QC (kind of an intern-like NFL position)
2004 NYJ QB coach
2005 NYJ WR coach
2006 49ers QB coach
07-09 Bears QB coach (Jay Cutler doooooon't caaaaaaare)
2010 Stanford WR coach
2011 to present Stanford OC/QB coach
Like a lot of assistants looking to move up, he's bounced around a bit. I wouldn't hold that against him.
@Music Man Yeah, I'm not crazy about most of those names. I'm hoping they either go with Moore or promote Christensen, who ran a somewhat conservative (possibly because of o line play) version of Tom Moore's offense.
@DougEngland I agree about CC. Watching games, his offense looked predictable. But other times, it looked like he had the defense's number. Almost made Painter look average (but alas, it couldn't be done). I also agree about the HC records for the most part. Some of these guys, like Mornhinweg, are good examples.
@smonroe I agree wholeheartedly with Nate there. Moore would be great. No HC aspirations. Cameron is such an unpopular option, I was actually surprised at his track record. But just because he worked with Pagano doesn't necessarily mean they want to work together again. I'm excited to hear who the candidates will be.
@buymymonkey maybe if there are no other options for him. But Moore told the Nashville paper that he didn't want another consultancy. He wasn't a to be an OC again. Usually, when teams bring in a consultant, it's bc their OC is doing a lousy job. So those have probably been strange situations for him.
@MarcusDugan I can live with Christensen. So many people are recoiling violently at the thought because of last year, but I don't understand why they bust on Clyde for Painter's shortcomings. Man, a cross between Lombardi and Welsh wouldn't have saved *that* offense, not with Curtis under center. The only thing would've been Manning, and that's strictly because the offense was designed for him.
But anyway.... Clyde Christensen: I actually think it'd be a good idea on several levels. For starters, it'd be a measure of continuity. Also, he understands why you'd let a QB do his thing from the Manning years, but also know the limits of what you could allow from the Painter one. And above all else, I thought he did a fairly okay job during the Ravens game, nevermind that it was a loss (the holes that were exploited were ones of personnel, not coaching or playcalling. If anything, the playcalling helped alleviate some of that by allowing Luck to actually look at the shorter routes instead of the Grossman-like hellbent "Screw it, I'm going downfield" attitude). So in short, I've got no problem with Clyde.
But the fanbase... oy. Too many naysayers shooting it down for the thinnest of reasons.
I wouldn't mind seeing Clyde retake the OC reins. True, he wouldn't be spectacular... but at least you wouldn't have to worry about him running off for a new job anytime soon. Thing is, though, I'd hate to have to deal with internet forums after that because he'd be blamed for every little thing that went wrong, whether he genuinely deserved it or not. And that'd be all due to perception over rationality because that's how any fanbase for any team in any sport is. And it'd be too much of a clamor.
So: Christensen. I'm for it. But I think you and I are part of an exceedingly small minority on that.
@MarcusDugan @DougEngland CC called a good game against the Ravens, with Luck under center, and moving Wayne around, like BA did, he could be more than competent to be the Colts OC. My biggest concern is Luck. He's new, and needs to develop his own style of NFL offense. The new OC should be able to replicate the same elements of BA's system so that Luck can really grow.
@MarcusDugan @smonroe Yeah, *tons* of folks don't want Cameron brought in. But the funny thing is, the Colts situation would be a replication of the past jobs where he actually did well in: Taking a team with a young QB and developing that guy.
My own objection to Cameron is that he'd ceiling pretty fast, and by the time Luck's ready for a new contract Cameron would start to become a hinderance instead of a help. But before then, I'd actually think he'd do a good job developing Luck. And because of that, I'm one of the few who'd actually not grimace if he were brought in. I'd just want him out in 3 years.
I'd LOVE to see Moore brought back. Let that no huddle fly! While I'm the first to admit that Arians got the team off to a good start and developed a solid base, I kept on gnashing my teeth on how he kept the leash tight until Luck was put into untenable situations where he had to overcome a lot just to get the ball downfield. I said time and time again that they needed to just say screw it, let Luck go no-huddle early. But it never happened. I'd like to think that Moore would let it happen, and would have the advantage of some of Luck's targets (Allen, Fleener, Hilton, Wayne especially) already having experience with Andrew's processes and quirks. So I think that'd be the best thing to let happen. But I'm seeing on Twitter, other forums, etc. people reacting so oddly negative to the notion. It's like he's tainted simply because he was brought in under Polian (my response is, so was Manning, but people would rather have their opinions validated than challenged, so that goes nowhere...). And they ignore the success the team saw under him.
Blech... I don't know. Outside of Moore, I don't really like any of the candidates (even Cameron, unless it were somehow made clear his tenure would be limited). So I don't know if Indianapolis is going to end up with the best OC situation come next season. We're just going to have to wait and see.
@AJ_ Christensen would get more blame than Donald Brown at a Polian Hate convention.
But I agree, he would probably do a fine job. And if Luck has some good line protection, I believe CC would open up the offense and let it fly. The problem with the teams he's coordinated is he either had a bad qb (01 Bucs and 2011 Colts) or a bad O-line (Colts). Both situations force the OC to slow things down a bit.
@MarcusDugan @DougEngland Don't know much about him; did watch some standford games in 2011 and noticed a pro-style offense. He probably has a strong rapport with Luck which is crucial for this early development. Also, he may be able to get Fleener more involved. He was kind of a let-down, especially compared to D.Allen.
It plays into the confirmation bias theory, and some other cognitive dissonance thing that I can't remember the name of.
The second one (college was a looooong time ago) basically says that when people's beliefs are challenged by facts or logic, we actually cling more tightly to, and try to find ways to maintain those beliefs instead of considering the facts objectively.
D*mmit, I wish I could remember the name of that theory. There's a good reason I didn't major in psych, I guess.