Pep Hamilton’s title when he was an assistant coach at Stanford was “Andrew Luck Director of Offense.” Now that Hamilton is Luck’s offensive coordinator for Jim Irsay’s Colts, his unofficial title will be “Andrew Luck King Biscuit Flower Coordinator.”
Pep Hamilton beat out Bummer Williams and Brown Acid Taylor for the right to replace Bruce Arians in Irsay’s medicine chest, prompting the eccentric owner/Deadhead to tweet that the Colts offense “could have some pep this fall.” Yes, Lebowski, and it could have some Luck, too, making the Colts the first team in NFL history to build an organizational philosophy entirely out of bad puns.
Hamilton’s wacky title at Stanford – if Luck someday becomes the Cardinal’s coordinator, does he become Andrew Luck, "Andrew Luck Director of Offense?” – reminds us that coaching careers are built from the accomplishments of young men, as credited to not-so-young men. Coaches like Hamilton teach, develop and shape the careers of youngsters like Luck, and they create environments that foster success. Hamilton is a promising young coordinator who had the misfortune of having his name officially tied to his quarterback’s success at Stanford. But many other coaches and executives have taken Magic Coattail Rides, often on the backs of players and teams not ready to support all of the excess weight. In the mathematics of the coaching resume, one Luck can spawn many Peps.
Take Arians, the former Colts offensive coordinator who was hired last week as the Arizona Cardinals head coach. The 60-year old Arians was not considered an NFL head-coaching candidate as recently as October. He had spent the eight previous seasons with the Steelers, where his title was “Ben Roethlisberger Director of Please for the Love of God Make Curfew,” and had earned a reputation as a kindly uncle to young quarterbacks, not a leader of football teams. Chuck Pagano’s illness thrust Arians into the spotlight, but if Luck had not had a charmed rookie season, Arians would have been just another Jersey Joe Vitt, keeping a lid on the stew pot. Instead, he is assembling a staff of his own and wondering if he can create another Luck by plugging John Skelton, Kevin Kolb and Ryan Lindley into the same power strip.
Andrew Luck credit is currently being shared by Arians, Hamilton, Pagano, to a degree, and Jim Harbaugh, though Harbaugh is now shedding the last vestiges of the Luck-Stanford connection. Harbaugh is busy holding on to his own staff. Greg Roman, the Colin Kaepernick Director of None of This Option Stuff Was My Idea, who also coached Luck at Stanford, flirted with the Jaguars but elected to remain in San Francisco, a franchise where he will never be asked to contemplate the Blaine Gabbert Pistol.
Unable to rebrand themselves as the Next 49ers, the Jaguars are attempting to become the Next Seahawks, just as the Current Seahawks try to generate some buzz as the Next 49ers. The Jaguars hired Gus Bradley, the former Richard Sherman Sample Cup Inspector, as their head coach, grabbing a little of that Seahawks magic before the Seahawks even get a chance to cast a spell that gets them to a conference title game. The Jets also borrowed from the Seahawks, hiring vice president of football administration John Idzik for a general manager position that has been renamed the Mike Tannenbaum Tire Fire Extinguisher.
Bradley coordinated one of the best defenses in the NFL and is extremely well regarded by those who follow the Seahawks closely. On the other hand, he worked for the defense-oriented Pete Carroll and deployed personnel acquired by personnel superstar Jon Schneider. Idzik worked closely with Schneider, but he was more of a cap-and-contract guy with the Seahawks, and his main involvement with Wilson was telling him where to sign and where to initial. Jets apologists insist Idzik is “more than just a cap guy,” which is of course true – everyone is more than just an anything, and Idzik is the son of an NFL lifer with a background which includes long stints with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Aberdeen (Scotland) Oilers – but the fact remains that the Jaguars and Jets are acquiring slivers of the Seahawks' success, and the Seahawks have barely had enough success to produce slivers. If Wilson had a few passes batted down in an early practice, or if Robert Griffin III got within 50 feet of Dr. James Andrews on the sideline, everyone would not have looked quite as brilliant, and the Jets might be plundering the Redskins staff.
(Two quick points here. First, there was indeed a football franchise in Aberdeen, Scotland -- and you thought Marc Trestman was off the grid. Second, there are apparently still Jets apologists.)
In the old days, hard-luck teams like the Cardinals, Jaguars and Jets hired coaches and executives away from established dynasties, which is why we can talk about the Bill Walsh Family Tree without making a joke. Now, teams are cutting the tips off of saplings. The Baby Belichicks helped kill the old “family tree” system by acting like medieval tyrants who held treason trials for livestock every time they acquired a little power. But part of the change is simply the acceleration of life in the digital age, and the often-misplaced value we place on what’s “buzzy” over what is proven and durable. Teams used to copy opponents that were winning. Now they copy opponents that are trending.
Staying ahead of the curve has its merits: fresher ideas, more experimentation and a decreased probability of Romeo Crennel. Bradley and Hamilton look like smart hires in a league where teams are all-too eager to keep resuscitating Norv Turner types.
At the same time, we have come a long way from the days when legendary coaches had family trees to the days when coaching positions are named after – and coaching careers are made by – precocious 23-year olds. Somewhere between recycling old coaches resting on past laurels and chasing the hot new team that has not even coalesced into a perennial powerhouse yet, there is a middle ground where success has been sustained without growing stale. Coaches involved in that kind of success deserve to be rewarded, but then again, they probably already are.