Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pep Hamilton, back from NFL, gets most out of Michigan’s players

By Jake Lourim

April 7, 2017

In the three months since Pep Hamilton came from the Cleveland Browns to become the passing game coordinator at Michigan, those inside the U-M football program have seen multiple sides of him.

Redshirt junior quarterback Wilton Speight, Hamilton’s primary student, sees the coach’s 11-year-old son coming around the practice facility, calling, “Dad, Dad! Let’s throw the football!”

Hamilton obliges, and it reminds Speight of his relationship with his own father, with whom he would play basketball, football or lacrosse in their backyard in Richmond, Va.

Hamilton arrived at Michigan on Jan. 12 after four seasons in the NFL, and he brought his professional mind-set with him. He encourages his players to snub video games in favor of film study. If one makes a mistake, offensive coordinator Tim Drevno said, Hamilton will tell him to repeat the task until it’s right. Nobody gets a pass, Hamilton admitted, even heralded freshmen wide receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black.

“When they’re young, and you ask them to do something, if they ask why,” Hamilton said Tuesday, “you tell them, ‘Because I said so.’”

That’s Michigan’s new passing game coordinator, and what he will demand from his players. Speight admitted he has a “working relationship” first and foremost with Hamilton, and Hamilton likewise knows what his job is: “To help Wilton be the best Wilton that he can be.”

The 42-year-old coach hopes the benefits will follow. He relishes this process of mentoring players, saying it’s one of the primary reasons he came back to college. Hamilton last coached in college as the wide receivers coach and then the offensive coordinator at Stanford from 2010 to 2012. He then left for the NFL for four years, as the offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts from 2013 to 2015 and then the associate head coach for the Browns last season.

In coaching the Colts, Hamilton had a chance to continue teaching the players he developed at Stanford — most notably quarterback Andrew Luck, but also wide receiver Griff Whalen and tight end Coby Fleener. But the opportunity to work with players earlier in that process lured Hamilton back to college.

“I think it’s a lot more fulfilling to have an opportunity to coach a young man and watch him mature and grow to be an adult,” Hamilton said. “…I had an opportunity to coach some guys on the college level and then coach them well into their pro careers, but it’s fun to watch them grow and develop and realize their full potential as players over the years.”

The transition has involved adjustments on both sides. Sophomore running back Chris Evans said Tuesday that Hamilton brings new verbiage but said it’s easy to remember — some terms, as an example, are named after golfers or boxers.

And Speight said Hamilton is similar to his predecessor, Jedd Fisch, in terms of what he runs and how he coaches.

Meanwhile, in working with college players versus pro players, Hamilton has much less time allotted for meetings and practice, so he has to adjust in teaching offense.

“A lot of what we’re going to do is just a continuation of what we do at Stanford when Coach (Jim) Harbaugh was there,” Hamilton said. “We’re adapting to our players, as opposed to our guys having to adapt to a new system.”

That’s another reason Hamilton left Cleveland for Ann Arbor — Harbaugh. The two worked together at Stanford, and as he does with many former assistants, Harbaugh brought in Hamilton to work for him again. With those two plus Drevno, the Wolverines have three key members from a staff that led a successful Stanford team in 2010.

“I know that Coach is going to find a way to win,” Hamilton said. “His teams always win. It was important for myself as well as it is for the rest of our staff to have an opportunity to win.”

Since his time at Stanford, Hamilton has gone 30-18 with the Colts and 1-15 with the rebuilding Browns. He believes he has learned from some mistakes and is ready to use that knowledge at Michigan.

He expressed one main desire that brought him back to college, and it’s one he has expressed before: “I want to win a national championship.”

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