If you haven't been following the Houston Texans lately — and we can totally understand if you haven't, since even their own fans have been staying away in droves — you're missing out on seeing the rapid maturation of the team's rookie quarterback, Davis Mills.
The first draft pick of general manager Nick Caserio's tenure, Mills was taken 67th overall after a Stanford career that was marred by injuries and saw him make just 11 starts.
Pushed into the starting role earlier than expected after a Tyrod Taylor hamstring injury, Mills first drew attention in October, when he completed 21 of 29 passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions against the New England Patriots. Over the past three weeks, he has played well enough that colleague Eric Edholm wrote that maybe Houston should stand pat in the 2022 draft and see what it really has with Mills.
Mills' story this season is remarkably similar to that of Justin Herbert's in 2020. Herbert was drafted by the Los Angeles Chargers with the idea that he'd sit behind Taylor and develop. But an injury to Taylor — in this case, the Chargers' medical staff puncturing one of his lungs while administering a pregame pain injection — led to Herbert starting in Week 2. He went on to have one of the best ever statistical seasons for a rookie quarterback and won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
There's one more thing Mills and Herbert have in common: Pep Hamilton.
Hamilton is currently the Texans' quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator, and was the Chargers' QBs coach last year. A few years ago, he was the offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts, guiding Andrew Luck to the best season of his all-too-brief career.
And yet, as the regular season draws to a close with two head coaching jobs already open and more to come, many of the usual names are coming up. Hamilton's deserves to be on every list as well.
If you put his résumé on a team owner or general manager's desk with the name removed, chances are they'd place him near the top of the pile of candidates because he checks pretty much every box in terms of what gets coaches hired over the past decade or so. He has extensive work on the offensive side of the ball including two-plus years as an NFL coordinator and play-caller and five as an NCAA coordinator. He has guided an impressive list of quarterbacks. He was an associate head coach at one point, and is on the young side at 47 years old.
Earlier this year, former NFL personnel exec Scott Pioli told me, "If you put [Hamilton’s] résumé down next to a number of head coaches that have been hired in recent years, not just in this cycle but in the past couple of cycles, he would absolutely measure up on paper and production with several of the other candidates. Measure up and even maybe exceed on paper.”
Every time the Rooney Rule and the NFL's endless tweaking of it comes up, there are always bad-faith arguments that teams should just hire the best person for the job, which presumes that a Black person couldn't be that man.
But let's play that game. Look again at what Hamilton has done. Pull up Luck's 2014 season, when he had 40 touchdowns for an 11-5 team that went to the AFC championship game. Or Herbert last year, when he threw 31 touchdowns against 10 interceptions as a rookie. Or Mills last Sunday, when he posted a 78 percent completion mark and averaged 9.4 yards per attempt against the Chargers.
And read the words of University of Maryland coach Mike Locksley, who said Hamilton "has a knack for making the complicated simple." Or the words of Texans head coach David Culley, who said last week that "Pep’s as good as there is understanding how to throw the ball, how to be a passer instead of a thrower. [Hamilton and Mills] have worked well together doing that.”
And then remember that from 2016 to 2021, there have been 40 head coaching hires and 29 of them were considered offensive coaches.
And then tell us why Hamilton hasn't gotten the chance that first-year head coaches Nick Sirianni or Dan Campbell, with less experience, have.
Looks like a best-candidate-for-the-job guy to us.
His one drawback might be that he has bounced around a lot. That's not much different than many assistants. When Chuck Pagano was on the hot seat for the Colts' 2015 season, he made Hamilton the first scapegoat. After working with the Cleveland Browns in 2016, he got an offer to be the assistant head coach and passing game coordinator with Michigan. In 2019 he got the chance to be the head coach and GM of the XFL's DC Defenders. Last year the Chargers fired their head coach, which almost always means assistants go too.
Hiring head coaches is an inexact science, or we wouldn't see at least five teams a year looking for new ones. There's no reason Hamilton shouldn't be on short lists for a chance.