Rose Bowl: Pep Hamilton using his Washington ties to Stanford’s advantage
By Chelsea Janes,
Somewhere in the Washington area, there’s a Bank of America still waiting for Pep Hamilton.
These days, Hamilton is the offensive coordinator of Rose Bowl-bound Stanford, the man who helped steer the program to its second Bowl Championship Series game in as many seasons despite losing one of the most decorated college quarterbacks ever in Andrew Luck.
But in the spring of 1997, Hamilton was a new Howard University graduate with a business degree and a job at Bank of America waiting for him come Sept. 1.
Fresh off his senior season, in which he was the quarterback for the Bison, Hamilton was asked by then-Howard Coach Steve Wilson to help out with the team’s signal-callers during spring practice. When an assistant retired, Hamilton was a natural choice to take over, and the Bison offered him a graduate assistant position.
He said he had not considered coaching, but Hamilton was intrigued. He brought the idea to his father — who wasn’t as enthusiastic.
He wasn’t “going to allow me to pass up a ‘real job’ to take a job as a GA,” Hamilton said recently. He turned down the offer.
But Wilson saw a natural teacher with a football mind, and a week later came back with a full-time offer. Bank of America agreed to push Hamilton’s start date back four months — to Jan. 1, 1998 — to let him give coaching a try.
Exactly 15 years after he was supposed to start in that management training position, Hamilton will be stepping onto the field to manage the Stanford offense at the Rose Bowl having never had, as he said, “a real job.”
“First time in the big city, I was in awe of all D.C. had to offer,” Hamilton, a Charlotte native, said of his early impressions of life at Howard. “I’ve been in love ever since.”
Since graduating from college, Hamilton’s path has always seemed to wind its way back through Washington, where he met his wife Nicole, a fellow Howard alum. The oldest of their three children was born at George Washington University Hospital.
Keeping D.C. in mind
Washington also is where Hamilton absorbed the vast compendium of offensive know-how that fills the (now digital) pages of what is known to be one of college football’s most extensive playbooks (well, iPad apps).
Much of that wisdom was passed down from Wilson, a former NFL defensive back who played for the Cowboys under Tom Landry and in two Super Bowls for the Broncos under Dan Reeves. He also played alongside Hall of Fame quarterbacks Roger Staubach and John Elway, and filed away countless valuable football lessons.
Wilson “did a really good job of filing all his playbooks and all the information that he was given by those great coaches, and he passed it down,” Hamilton said. “That helped me to gain a true understanding of the game and how you strategize.”
Hamilton “was always real intelligent, both in football and academics,” said Ted White, a teammate of Hamilton’s who is now Howard’s offensive coordinator. “Even when he was playing, he used to give me advice and information coming to the sideline, give me tips on the defense.”
From Howard, Hamilton jumped to the NFL coaching ranks with an internship for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1999. His road then weaved back to the D.C. area, where Hamilton interned with both the Baltimore Ravens (2000) and Washington Redskins (2001). By 2003, he had secured a full-time gig as a New York Jets assistant, but even then he lived in Washington in the offseason.
In 2010, Hamilton joined Jim Harbaugh’s Stanford staff as a wide receivers coach, and Harbaugh offered him a job with the San Francisco 49ers when he left Stanford after that season. But Hamilton had good reason to stay under new Coach David Shaw, who offered to promote Hamilton to offensive coordinator.
For one, Hamilton had known Shaw since their days together on the Ravens’ staff.
The other reason? Andrew Luck. One day, as Hamilton was mulling a move back to the NFL with Harbaugh, Luck “walked in my office, closed the door and said, ‘I’m coming back, Coach,’ ” Hamilton said. “And I just said, ‘Are you sure?’ ”
After getting several assurances that Luck wouldn’t change his mind and was indeed planning to return for his junior season, Hamilton decided to stay at Stanford. The rest — a record-setting 2011 campaign that saw the Cardinal offense break nearly every program record — is history.
Starting a pipeline
In the wake of Luck’s departure, many wondered if Stanford could re-create its 2011 magic. When its offense struggled early, including a 17-13 loss to Washington in which Stanford did not muster an offensive touchdown, the answer seemed clear.
But with the bulk of the conference schedule remaining, Hamilton and Shaw made a switch at quarterback to redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan — Hamilton’s first Stanford recruit. When Hamilton first saw Hogan as a raw, athletic quarterback at Gonzaga College High School, conveniently located in Hamilton’s old Washington stomping grounds, he saw someone he could mold into a starter.
Hogan led the Cardinal to four straight wins, including an upset of then-No. 1 Oregon and a win over then-No.17 UCLA in the Pacific-12 title game.
“He’s guided me along gradually which has made it easier,” Hogan said. “I feel more confident now than I would have in Week 3 or 4, up at the line of scrimmage that I’m getting us into the right plays, and I feel like a lot of that has to do with coaching.”
Thanks in part to Hamilton pounding the Beltway pavement, Stanford has mined the high-powered Washington Catholic Athletic Conference and Northern Virginia for some crucial talent over the past few years.
Another of his recruits was cornerback Alex Carter (Briar Woods), who played in all 13 games this season, starting seven. Hamilton hopes he has found another locally bred quarterback star in Ryan Burns, a first-team All-Met out of Stone Bridge who will join the Cardinal in 2013.
His coaching success means he’s probably not looking at a move to that banking career anytime soon. But a different kind of move could be down the road for the 38-year-old, whose name has come up for NFL and NCAA coaching vacancies in the past year. Some of the openings — should Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer shake up his offensive coaching staff, as expected, Hamilton’s name has been mentioned as a replacement — would bring him closer to the city that always seems to be a stop on his coaching road.
“I’m grounded in the D.C. area. Just the culture of the town and the cultural diversity is what makes it a special place in my opinion,” Hamilton said. “D.C. has a special place in my heart.