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Last updated: Thu. Jan. 16, 2014 - 08:31 am EDT


Hamilton's departure would be tough on Colts' Luck

Learning a third system in three years would be a challenge

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Andrew Luck's pro football reunion with offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton could be over after one season. That would not be good for Luck.

Hamilton, who coached Luck at Stanford University before taking over as the Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator in 2013, is one of the candidates for the vacant Vanderbilt University head coaching job. Several media outlets report he will interview for the job today.

If Hamilton leaves, Luck will have his third coordinator in three NFL seasons.

That would be a recipe for frustration, if not regression.

Luck went from the wide-open, stretch-the-field, big-play perspective of Bruce Arians in his rookie season to an often more conservative approach with Hamilton. The positive in switching to Hamilton was the fact Luck had familiarity with his offense and terminology, so he wasn't so much switching gears as going back to something he knew well.

Luck's play on the field reflected growth, as he improved his completion percentage (54 to 60 percent) and decreased his interceptions (18 to nine) in the regular season. Hamilton's offense is intricate in many ways, as Luck and his other Stanford-produced teammates Coby Fleener and Griff Whalen have attested.

With Hamilton back, and some offensive weapons such as Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Allen and Vick Ballard returning, it could be assumed the Colts offense would take another step forward.

Now it could be in limbo and Luck could be facing another offensive face-lift.

Hamilton has never been a head coach, but if he likes the Vanderbilt job – and why would he interview if he didn't? – and receives an offer, he's likely gone. Every coordinator this side of the legendary Tom Moore longs to be a head coach, longs to call all the shots. Hamilton is no different. Whether he'll be the fit Vanderbilt is looking for remains to be seen. He doesn't have experience running an entire college program, but Vanderbilt officials have said that's not necessarily a deal-breaker, and they've backed that idea by bringing him in for an interview.

ESPN reported other candidates for Vanderbilt's job include St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason and Vanderbilt offensive line coach Herb Hand.

If Hamilton lands the job, the Colts might move quickly to find a replacement. Some have mentioned former Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak as a possibility. That would be a great hire, given his NFL experience and knowledge of the AFC South. He's known for the strong use of a running game, which Colts coach Chuck Pagano would appreciate.

But it would put Luck in a difficult spot.

People sometimes underestimate the mental challenges of playing quarterback in the NFL. Not only does Luck have to know and understand the offensive system installed by the coordinator, he has to know it so well he can make the necessary audibles and changes at the line of scrimmage. That requires not only an intellectual understanding of what's going on, but an almost second-nature ability to check to the right formations, etc., dictated by his reading of the defense.

The blueprint for quarterback success is Peyton Manning, and Manning was able to essentially take his Colts' offensive building blocks and work with coaches in Denver to run the same offense.

A new coordinator might not change the philosophy of the Colts, since Pagano insists he still believes in running the ball and stopping the run. But it would still require the installation of an entirely new system, one that would require an adjustment from every offensive player.

The biggest load is on quarterback's shoulders.

There's comfort in the fact Luck is one of the most intelligent young quarterbacks in the game. He'll spend the necessary hours in the film room and the playbook if he's forced to digest a new offense.

But a new coordinator will slow Luck's progression in the offseason. If Hamilton stays, the Colts will expand the use of his offense, installing more plays and variations, building layers on the foundation in place.

I'm sure Luck wants the best for Hamilton and would be thrilled for him to get his shot at being a head coach. But deep down, wherever that little bit of selfishness resides in Luck, he surely wouldn't mind if Hamilton came in second this time.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at

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