Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Pep Hamilton shines as Texans' biggest victory from coaching shakeup

John Crumpler 

It’s official.

On Monday, Feb. 21, 38 days after the dismissal of coach David Culley, the Houston Texans announced a finalized coaching staff under new head coach Lovie Smith. Smith, formerly the defensive coordinator under Culley, has opted not to hire a defensive coordinator and retained Frank Ross as special teams coordinator.

Despite ample speculation that former Texans’ and heavily tenured backup quarterback Josh McCown would join the staff, his name is notably absent. This comes after McCown was considered a finalist for the coaching position and, after Smith’s hire, commentary that the former backup would make a terrific football coach in the future. It’s a bit of a surprise but a welcome one that signals this is truly Smith’s own staff.

With all the hirings official, there is one name that stands out as a glaring victory and the shining star of the Texans’ decision to overhaul their coaching staff this offseason. Pep Hamilton, formerly quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator under Culley, was elevated to offensive coordinator and convinced to stay in Houston despite a multitude of interviews and offers this offseason across the league.

Simply put, Hamilton donning a headset for the Texans’ staff is the franchise’s biggest victory since they defeated the Buffalo Bills in the 2019 playoffs.

Hamilton is massively credited with the development of Justin Herbert during his shocking rookie of the year campaign for the Los Angeles Chargers during 2020. His work with third-round pick Davis Mills, who arguably performed better than any of his 2021 rookie peers at the quarterback position, officially put the league on notice.

During his last tenure in Indianapolis from 2013-2015, the Colts’ offense finished 14th in points scored during his first year and then progressed to sixth in yardage and third in scoring during the 2014 campaign. Hamilton was oddly fired during 2015, a season where Andrew Luck only started seven games behind an atrocious offensive line.

He was the hottest name in the offensive coordinator landscape, and many are projecting he’ll have offers to be a head coach next year. For someone with ample options, it’s a minor miracle he opted to stay in Houston with the current state and reputation of the franchise.

Houston desperately needs help offensively. They finished 28th in passing yards, 32nd in rushing yards, and 30th in points per game in 2021. Make no mistake, Hamilton has his work cut out for him. However, his presence on the team represents Houston’s best chance to improve rapidly across from Smith’s defense.

The right offensive mind can make a world of difference, just look at the Los Angeles Rams or the San Francisco 49ers before the arrival of Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan respectively. If Hamilton is who the league is billing him to be, then Houston could be the site of an offensive renaissance after being burdened with the same Bill O’Brien/Tim Kelly scheme the last three seasons.

He’ll need plenty of help from general manager Nick Caserio. A viable running back, a slot receiver to compliment Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins, and a sizable upgrade for the interior offensive line are certainly on the checklist. If Mills is able to take steps forward during his sophomore campaign and Caserio can just hit a few needs this side of the ball has the potential to improve exponentially from their dreadful 2021 campaign.

Houston, your coaching hiring process was a disaster, but it may have fallen back into a good result. Hamilton provides as much optimism for the Texans’ as they’ve had since the departure of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in 2020.

The Texans employ one of the hottest up-and-coming coaching candidates on the market, someone who may even follow Smith as coach should the 63-year-old choose to retire sooner than expected. A colossal victory for a franchise that hasn’t had many.

Embrace the hope; Hamilton is worth it.

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