Perhaps a tad euphoric over the Colts’ collection of weapons in the offseason, Pep Hamilton stepped out of his normally conservative public persona and suggested the team’s offense this year would be “the greatest ‘shoe on turf.”
Instead, it turned out to be the boot.
With the team at 3-5 midway through the season largely because of a disappointingly erratic offense, the Colts fired Hamilton Tuesday afternoon. Rob Chudzinzki, who has been serving as associate head coach, will step in as offensive coordinator.
“Through the first eight weeks of the season, we have felt our offense hasn’t performed at the consistent level that we need. Because of this we’ve decided to go in a different direction and relieve Pep Hamilton of his duties as offensive coordinator,” said coach Chuck Pagano in a statement released by the team. “As head coach of this team, it’s my responsibility to make sure I’m doing everything we can to put us in the best position to succeed. We thank Pep for his service to the team and wish him all the best.”
The irony of Hamilton’s situation is that he was undone by the struggles of quarterback Andrew Luck, who he has coached since their days together at Stanford. But after a prolific 2014 season, Luck ranks 32nd in the NFL in passer rating with a career-low 71.6, having completed just 55 percent of his attempts for 1,629 yards, 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
And the Colts, after ranking third in the NFL in total yards and sixth in scoring last season, have slipped to 16th in total offense (352.2) and 20th in points (21.8) despite the additions of running back Frank Gore and wide receivers Andre Johnson and Phillip Dorsett (who recently went down with a fractured bone in his leg).
Slow starts and frantic finishes have been the earmarks of Luck’s tenure, but never moreso than this season. The Colts trailed 27-14 at Tennessee and needed a furious fourth-quarter to pull out a 35-33 victory to avoid an 0-3 start. They trailed New Orleans 27-0 at home two weeks ago, falling 27-21.
And the last straw came Monday night in Carolina when the Colts trailed the Panthers 23-6 early in the fourth quarter before Luck – who had passed for just 50 yards with two interceptions through the quarters – heated up and directed four consecutive scoring drives to guide the visitors to a 26-23 lead in overtime. But Luck’s third interception of the night set up Graham Gano’s game-winning field goal in a 29-26 loss.
Just exactly how the offense will be different under Chudzinski remains to be seen, but it’s clear he is closely aligned with Pagano. They have a relationship that dates back to 1986, when Chudzinski was a tight end and Pagano a graduate assistant coach at Miami (Fla.). They were assistants with the Hurricanes from 1995-2000 and again with the Cleveland Browns in 2004.
Hamilton, on the other hand, reportedly was hired by GM Ryan Grigson, not the head coach.
Chudzinski has four seasons as an NFL offensive coordinator, with Cleveland (2007-08) and Carolina (2011-12). With the Panthers, he worked closely with Cam Newton during the No. 1 pick’s rookie season, and developed a power-running offense that produced three running backs with at least 700 yards for the first time in NFL history.
“Coach Chud was very influential in my development as a quarterback and still is,” Newton said on a conference call last week. “I still talk to him on and off when the time presents itself. I owe a lot of respect to him and I will always be grateful for a guy like Rob Chudzinski and the guys that gave an opportunity for me to come into this league and make the impact like I have.”
With a short week to prepare for the undefeated Denver Broncos Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, the initial changes will be superficial.
But make no mistake: Pagano’s future with the Colts may very well be in Chudzinski’s hands.