DENVER – If you’re a Broncos fan but also just a casual NFL observer, you might have woken up to Thursday’s newsabout the team’s new head coach and asked, “Who is Nathaniel Hackett?”
The answer carries layers. He’s the son of a longtime NFL coach, a former player, and has been coaching for more than 20 years himself. But there’s more to him than just football.
Here are 7 things you need to know about the Broncos new head coach:
1. His players in Green Bay miss him already
NFL teams want a coach who can connect with their players. It’s evident Hackett did that as the offensive coordinator in Green Bay if we’re judging by the reaction from his now-former players.
“One of the absolute best human beings and smartest coaches around,” tweeted receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. “Man this makes my heart happy seeing great people get rewarded. I wish my guy nothing but the absolute best.”
Running back AJ Dillon called Hackett, “Truly an amazing coach.” Former Packers offensive lineman Lane Taylor said, “The guys in Denver will love him!”
2. Aaron Rodgers loved him as a coach
Naturally the talk about getting Rodgers to Denver will intensify even more now that Hackett is the coach in the Mile High City. For what it’s worth, Rodgers also loves the guy.
“I would hate to lose him, but I do feel like he would be a fantastic head coach,” Rodgers told The Washington Post’s (and former Denver Post reporter) Nicki Jhabvala back in October.
“It’s understanding that every player has different motivators and everybody can respond differently to coaching, and figuring out what those buttons are on certain people to push to get the most out of them,” Rodgers added. “That’s what he does really well. He disarms guys and makes them feel really comfortable, and then he’s really good at teaching the game.”
3. Hackett likes to make football fun
By all accounts, Vic Fangio was not one to light up the room with jokes while installing the weekly game plan. But Hackett is not Fangio, according to players and coaches.
He taught hip-hop dance classes in college at UC Davis and still works with his daughter dancing. He incorporates Justin Timberlake, Star Wars and more into his play calls and weekly offensive presentations.
“His presentations are legendary, they really are. He finds ways every single week to come up with new cool ideas,” Rodgers told The Washington Post. “He’s got infectious energy.”
4. Hackett helped lead the Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game
It might seem like a distant memory for most, but the Jaguars were four points away from the Super Bowl in the 2017 season, led by quarterback Blake Bortles.
Hackett served as the offensive coordinator for Jacksonville that year, turning the team around from a 3-13 record in 2016 to a 10-6 record in 2017 and winning the AFC South.
The Jaguars had the NFL’s top rushing attack, averaging 141 yards per game.
Bortles had his highest QBR of his career that year and finished with his second-highest completion percentage ever.
“It doesn’t take more than five minutes of talking to him to realize this guy’s really not like the rest of them,” Bortles told The Washington Post.
Jacksonville beat the Steelers in the Divisional Playoffs 45-42 before losing the New England 24-20 in the AFC Championship Game despite leading for most of the game.
5. Hackett was originally a neurobiology major
The profile on Hackett in The Washington Post and another published a month earlier in Sports Illustrated detailed how Hackett went from working to be a doctor to becoming a football coach during a laboratory final.
According to Hackett, while he was studying at UC Davis and completing a 10-hour lab, he decided to try to have some fun with the chicken on which he was operating and spurted some blood out of his patient. It did not go over well, he told SI, and he decided that was when he wanted to switch to coaching.
“When you’re out on the football field, and people are hitting each other and you’re messing with everyone and there’s all this activity instead of being locked in a lab. … I just realized, I can’t do arthroscopic surgery in front of 80,000 people,” Hackett told SI.
6. Football is in Hackett’s blood
Hackett is the son of Paul Hackett, whose coaching career spanned more than 40 years in both the college ranks and the NFL, where he generally coached the West Coast offense at places like USC and with the Browns, 49ers, Cowboys, Chiefs, Jets and Bucs, among others.
The younger Hackett leaned on his experience watching his father and other coaches, and spending time in locker rooms, working as various teams’ ball boys and equipment managers and being around legendary coaches and players like Marty Schottenheimer and Marcus Allen.
7. The Packers have the best record in the NFL since Hackett became offensive coordinator
A team’s record is a reflection of its players and coaches, but it’s tough not to note that the Packers own the NFL’s best regular season record since Hackett became offensive coordinator before the 2019 season.
With Hackett as OC and Matt LaFleur coaching, Green Bay owns a 39-10 regular season record over the past three seasons – one game better than the Kansas City Chiefs, whom Hackett will become quite familiar with.
The Packers also had the fifth-most points per game over that period out of all NFL teams, with 27.2. Over the same three seasons, the Broncos ranked 28th in PPG, with just 19.2.
Click here for more on Hackett’s hiring from Broncos Insider Troy Renck.