AP Photo-Kevin Terrell
If, in fact, the rumors are true, and Jim Harbaugh will either leave the San Francisco 49ers on his own or be dismissed following the regular season finale against Arizona, fans would hope that 49ers ownership and general manager Trent Baalke have some sort of plan for finding a capable replacement.
There might be a temptation there to bring in what many refer to as a coaching "retread," a coach who has a ton of experience and has been moderately successful, but might have a bit of baggage: former coaches Mike Shanahan and Mike Holmgren, both former 49ers offensive coordinators, have been among the names mentioned as possible replacements for Harbaugh.
But rather than step back to the past (and a considerable step, by the way – Holmgren hasn't coached a game in seven or eight years and Shanahan hasn't been a part of the 49ers' organization for 20), perhaps the Niners should be a bit – well, proactive.
Their perfect candidate could be sitting in Indianapolis right now. And that perfect candidate is Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton.
Hamilton, only 40, is a former 49ers assistant coach (he was the quarterbacks coach in 2006, the year following the drafting of Alex Smith, insert Smith development joke here). He has local collegiate ties, having served as an assistant at Stanford in 2010-12.
But it's Hamilton's most recent season that is the most impressive. Hamilton is also the orchestrator of the NFL's premier passing game, a department in which the current crop of 49ers is sorely lacking. Prior to the final game of the regular season, the Colts are averaging 305 yards per game, the best in the NFL. They're third (behind New Orleans and Pittsburgh) in total yards per game, with an average of 408.
Stanford product and Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, of course, is quite the trigger-man for Hamilton's offense. Luck has completed 370 of 600 passes this year, about 62 percent, for 4,601 yards, 38 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He has a quarterback rating of 95.4, and attempts about 40 passes per game. He is in his third season as a pro.
At Stanford, Luck improved each year. He threw for 2,575 yards, 13 touchdowns and four interceptions in 2009, 3,338 yards, 32 touchdowns and eight picks in 2010, and 3,517 yards, 37 scores and 10 picks in 2011. Hamilton was his quarterbacks coach and Stanford's offensive coordinator in 2011 (and in 2012, following Luck's departure). He was also Stanford's wide receivers coach in 2010.
Hamilton is African-American, which satisfies the league's minority interview requirement.
True, Hamilton has no head coaching experience in the NFL or college football, which would be his biggest detriment. But that can be buffered by surrounding him with seasoned coaching veterans – if York can convince Harbaugh assistants like Jim Tomsula, Vic Fangio, and Tom Rathman, among others, to remain on board.
Hamilton's detractors could argue that the Colts' lack of a running game could be a red flag that perhaps the Colts' offensive success has far more to do with Luck pulling the trigger than Hamilton's offensive brilliance. Indianapolis traded for former first-round pick Trent Richardson, and even if Richardson is an NFL bust, other capable backs (Donald Brown and Ahmad Bradshaw) have also had limited success. They do average, as a team, 4 yards per carry, but have the 21st-ranked running game in the league – San Francisco, by the way, is sixth.
No one is certain at this point about the immediate future of one-day hall-of-fame running back Frank Gore, though Baalke said Tuesday he would like to have Gore return in 2015. But Carlos Hyde has been very impressive early in his career, so it's not like a new coach wouldn't have a building block for the running game, and the 49ers' offensive line is one of the best in the sport, when healthy.
Tight end might be the newest question mark for the 49ers, with the fall-off of Vernon Davis. Wide receiver has been a sore spot for some time, except for 2013, and some new talent will need to be a part of the mix there.
Defensively, of course, the 49ers are solid, and quite good – when all their pieces aren't out for the season. Injuries on defense were the biggest problem for the 2014 49ers, who never got linebacker Navorro Bowman back from a horrific knee injury in last year's NFC championship game in Seattle, and then lost all-everything linebacker Patrick Willis, among others, including first-round pick Jimmy Ward, to boot. A new coach would need to invest some time in improving the secondary.
The franchise, though, has invested a lot of money in quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and in a quarterback-driven league, the 49ers will only go so far as Kaepernick can take them. From his track record, Hamilton could certainly help with Kaep's development. He was Luck's quarterbacks coach at Stanford, then followed at Indianapolis.
There's no question Kaepernick could use some help. The level of his potential is exciting, but he clearly regressed this year from his breakout seasons in 2012 and 2013. Kaepernick was not an elite quarterback in 2014, and his second-half struggles were obvious. On the season, Kaepernick has completed 274 of 452 passes, right at 60 percent, for 3,185 yards, 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Many 49ers fans believe that current offensive coordinator Greg Roman handcuffed Kaepernick a bit, and that a new offensive outlook is needed for the quarterback position. Hamilton would be a breath of fresh air in that regard, as well.
Still, expect several interviews to be conducted before Jed York and Baalke feel they have "their guy." And the 49ers organization will be one of at least five, perhaps six or more, looking for a new coach. Hamilton will likely get several interviews, unless he is the top choice of one franchise who won't let him leave the building without inking him to a deal.
That franchise should be the one located at 4949 Centennial Boulevard in Santa Clara.
Date: December 29, 2014 at 6:12 AM
Comment: please get mike holmgren, an offensive genius
Date: December 28, 2014 at 9:45 PM
Comment: Does he bring Andrew Luck with him? No. So don't expect the same results. The only thing Pep would do is limit Kaepernicks pass attempts. I suppose that in and of itself would have helped our offense this season. But that's more of an indictment of our QB than anything else. It's real easy to blame a HC as he's being shown the door rather than face the painful question surrounding our QB's lacking abilities in the passing game. Pep isn't the answer so much as Kap actually learning how to be an NFL QB.
Date: December 27, 2014 at 2:45 PM
Comment: I think this is an interesting and valid commentary. How realistic it is, I couldn't address. But the reason Steelers hired a young head coach with no prior HC experience in Mike Tomlin (also around 40) but had a stalwart defensive coordinator in Dick Lebeau. That consistency has proven to go a long way for the Steelers. Even in down years, they are always competitive. If Pep could bring in or add to the OC position, remain stout at the DC position with Fangio, I'd like the outlook for our 49ers, both short and long term. and
By: ugly money
Date: December 27, 2014 at 9:14 AM
Comment: I wouldn't be mad at pep coaching niners (i ideally would like him as offensive coordinator ) but kaep aint the quarterback Andrew is.
Date: December 27, 2014 at 7:16 AM
Comment: Oh my, Zach Ameen. Did you come up with that joke all by yourself? I bet you're the funniest 3rd grader in your class.
By: Zach Ameen
Date: December 27, 2014 at 1:25 AM
Comment: Pep will failed because he will have to deal with Kaeperror who is a coach killer.
Date: December 26, 2014 at 5:39 PM
Comment: Why would you hire another Harbaugh. Haven't you learn. 49ers hired Harbaugh because he was a former NFL QB. Big mistake. Look at the offense. Look at Harbaugh's QBs. Kaeperdnick & Gabbert are to examples. Harbaugh comes from Dikta coaching tree. So does Pep. Stay away from those coaches. Find a coach that runs a professional system. Not a coach from the 1980's college system.
Date: December 25, 2014 at 5:34 AM
Comment: If the team is going to go with a first time coach Fangio would be the best bet. This is a team that should contend next year. Fangio knows this team as well as anyone. I'm sure some bright offensive coach can be found somewhere to run the offense.
Date: December 25, 2014 at 4:23 AM
Comment: Oh thank God that satisfies the African American interview requirement. Tool.
By: Allen Umber
Date: December 24, 2014 at 9:44 PM
Comment: Vic Fangio is the only assistant coach I want taking the job. Anyone else better have a ton of head coaching experience. Stupid article.
Date: December 24, 2014 at 5:10 PM
Comment: Plase Trent Baalke and John York, don´t read this. Just stay away from young OC´s that only coach HOF-caliber QB´s.
By: Stephen Freese
Date: December 24, 2014 at 1:56 PM
Comment: The responsibility for the entire episode, the teams demise, the universal speculation, constant distraction, not discounting the injuries, this year falls at the feet of Jed York.
A man should respect the people he hires. He should support him or them publicly. The lack of character that Jed has revealed this year, i.e. leaving his coach, his coaching staff, the players, the entire organization in limbo, and left to constantly answer the speculation is despicable. This responsibility also includes the GM. I am not surprised by the teams lack of success this year.
They have created a him against us mentality. The recipe for discord and failure.
Men, women, all employee's of any organization deserve respect. The aforementioned above have not been respected , but left to answer the speculation all year, and in doing so, the integrity and cohesion of the lacker room has been undermined.
do not say this to say that the coach does not bear some responsibility. Regardless of that, the ultimate responsibility is the ownership.
Yet, leadership, is always the one's, ultimately responsible to maintain dignity and what the ownership has displayed this entire years is unconscionable, a
Date: December 24, 2014 at 1:21 PM
Comment: Bruce arians had no college or NFL Head coaching experience until he became interim HC for the Colts. Look at what he did with the colts and cards. I say Hamilton deserves a chance.
Date: December 24, 2014 at 1:12 PM
Comment: This year was so strewn with injuries, lame penalties, and personal issues that any knee jerk reaction from top down is inept. A lot of things hit us at once this year, look at the stats where we need improvement, like calling a time out because we could not get the play called.
Date: December 24, 2014 at 12:46 PM
Comment: Mentionin that he is African American what was the point in that? Not that he satisfies a league requirement if he can coach he can coach point blank.
By: Das Dweeb
Date: December 24, 2014 at 12:27 PM
Comment: Hamilton would be an excellent OC candidate, but as the post says, he has no HC experience in college or pros. A steady head man with HC leadership bona fides is needed - John Harbaughs are not that easy to find. A character guy like Tony Dungy would probably do wonders to get this team on the same page again, as long as he allowed an offensive wizard to call the plays. A rhythm-passing, Bill Walsh-style attack would make great use of the pieces in place, plus drafting a true deep threat to further expand the dimensions of the passing offense.
By: Forty Niner Nation
Date: December 24, 2014 at 11:57 AM
Comment: This is a STUPID ARTICLE. This guy is not qualified and has no coaching experienc elike Singletary. He would just be another Singletary and was even part of Singletary's staff. Niners need to dump Kapernick and get Jon Gruden of Shannan. Someone with experience.
Date: December 24, 2014 at 11:35 AM
Comment: Does Pep have any experience in play calling? I would love for the Niners to have a coach who calls plays from the sideline. It is my opinion that HC/QB duos such as Payton/Brees and McCarthy/ Rodgers have the most fluent offensive systems in the NFL.