Welcome to the newest article series here at Broadway Sports: Broadway Battle. In this series we will take two writers and pit them head to head in a battle for who is right when it comes to a topic of interest.
At the very end of this article and on Twitter will be polls. These polls will determine who wins the “fight” to start off this new series with a 1-0 lead.
Our debut fight revolves around whether or not Pep Hamilton would be the right fit as offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. Let’s introduce the fighters.
In the red corner, weighing in at… an unknown weight, measuring, uh, unknown feet tall, presenting the case against Pep Hamilton, the man of mystery himself: SuperHorn AKA Bill Ott!
And in the blue corner, measuring in at 3.5 Busch Light kegs tall, and weighing in at dad-bod pounds, making the case for Pep Hamilton: Mike “The Miracle” Herndon!
The Case Against Pep Hamilton
Bill: Just two years ago, Derrick Henry was battling for his job with Dion Lewis. Ryan Tannehill was benched and traded by the Miami Dolphins. The Tennessee Titans appeared to be continuing the time honored tradition of constructing a trash offense. And, then, slowly at first, the light began to come on. The offensive line began to gel. Henry settled in. The icing on the cake was Tannehill entering this offensive system in the middle of 2019. The offense was suddenly elevated from middling, sometimes good, but never great, to a legitimate top-five offense in the NFL. Beyond that, Tannehill and Henry both had back-to-back career years.
At the core of all of this is the West Coast Offense (WCO). More specifically, the Shanahan variant of the WCO. It’s a system reliant on the outside zone as its core tenet. And, it is this core component that is the lifeblood of the Titans success in 2019 and 2020. Everything builds off of it. The linemen were brought in, and drafted, to play in this system. Henry gets credit for his highlight stiff arms, and breakaways (rightfully so), but it’s his comfort in reading the keys on outside zone runs – and setting up second level defenders – that makes him so consistently effective. This relentless outside zone action puts the linebackers in constant conflict, which really allowed the passing game to hum, both inside and outside play action.
So, now, after reaching the pinnacle of offensive success for this franchise (only the second time having a top-five scoring offense in the last 25 years), with all the core pieces in place that thrive in this system, they’re going to go in a different direction? Why?
Pep Hamilton is by all accounts a good coach. He clearly did good things with Andrew Luck, and followed it up with what looks to be promising development of Justin Herbert. He’s got a well-constructed and organized drop-back passing game. He ties play action with the run game pretty well, too. So, where’s the rub?
You probably guessed it – he’s not a WCO disciple. His run game is geared towards gap runs – Power, Counter, Trap, etc. It doesn’t center around outside zone. To be crystal clear, being a Shanahan tree WCO coach is not the end-all of offensive systems. Anyone watching the NFL can turn on the best offense in the NFL – Kansas City – to know that. What matters is that you’re playing with fire by moving away from that system that’s working so well in Tennessee.
But, Pep Hamilton can adapt, right? Just throw in some outside zone runs, and run his system. It’s not that simple. It is about how all the puzzle pieces fit together.
Now, Art Smith only had one year in this system, under Matt LaFleur, and he made it really hum when he took over. So, it’s possible Pep could as well. But, now you’re bringing in a guy to run a system that’s not his own. Again, why? You’re unnecessarily making things more difficult.
Pep would be a great addition as a passing game coordinator. In fact, elevating Keith Carter to OC and bringing on Hamilton to assist in the passing game would probably be my preferred scenario. But, shifting gears to an OC that’s not rooted in the Shanahan system is the wrong move. This team has spent a quarter of a century chasing offensive relevance. They made it. Don’t jeopardize that. Ride this system until it breaks.
The Case For Pep Hamilton
Mike: Pep Hamilton is among my favorite offensive coordinator options for the Titans. He’s an experienced playcaller who has done it successfully at the NFL level and carries respect from those who have crossed paths with him.
Let me also state for the record that I believe whoever the Titans hire to run the offense will be building on the foundation left behind by Matt LaFleur and Arthur Smith, not installing a brand new scheme from scratch. It’s a lot easier for one coach to come in and learn terminology and a playbook than it is for him to teach an entire offensive staff and roster a brand new system. Besides, it’s not as if the Titans scheme is broken. They just finished their best offensive season in three decades and are returning at least nine starters on that side of the ball.
Hamilton is a bit of a mutt when it comes to offensive systems. He has roots in the west coast offense, but has referred to his offense as a “no coast offense” previously due to him borrowing elements from Air Coryell and other offensive systems during his career as a coach. He cites Mike Heimerdinger, Norv Turner, and Paul Hackett as influential mentors in addition to Jim Harbaugh.
His offense in Indianapolis during his three years as offensive coordinator from 2013 through 2015 featured a lot of heavy personnel, something that fits with what the Titans have done on offense the last couple years. Hamilton likes the versatility that tight ends can bring as he noted in this quote:
I think if you just look at the versatility of Dwayne Allen and his ability to line up in the backfield and lead block, or line up and detach and line up in the slot, and win the one-on-one matchup, that’s a tremendous weapon that you want to have in any offense.
I think that if we can keep the one-trick ponies off the field, it just puts a lot more pressure on our opponents defensively to try and anticipate what it is that we want to do. The art of deception is a big part of offensive football, as you well know.
Those offenses also featured a good deal of play action and shots downfield for Andrew Luck.
There are clear differences though. Hamilton’s offenses leaned towards power concepts in the running game instead of the zone blocking schemes that the Titans have preferred under LaFleur and Smith (though the heavy incorporation of the duo concept in 2020 showed that Tennessee doesn’t have to be exclusively a zone team to function in the run game). He also was far more pass heavy than Tennessee has been on offense recently, though that could simply be a result of him running the offense through his best player in Andrew Luck (which is a sign of good coaching).
His work with Luck both at Stanford and in Indy was impressive, as was his development of Justin Herbert during his record-setting rookie season. The thing that stands out about both quarterbacks is how fearlessly aggressive they were in their approach. That’s already a strongsuit of Ryan Tannehill’s, but I think Hamilton’s track record with quarterbacks points to a guy who will continue to get the best out of the Titans veteran.
Ultimately, I think Hamilton is a guy who has enough west coast offense experience to quickly pick up the Titans base offense, but a varied enough background to continue to build on it (and maybe even nudge them slightly towards more focus on Tannehill, A.J. Brown, and the Titans passing attack). He presents a nice middle ground between risking a stale re-run and a total overhaul offensively.
That’s for you to decide. By next week, before the next article in this battle series, we will close voting here and on Twitter. So tell us who won by voting, and leave your thoughts in the comment section below!
Broadway Battle: Pep Hamilton for OC?
- Mike Wins (73%, 85 Votes)
- SuperHorn Wins (27%, 32 Votes)
Total Voters: 117