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Denver Broncos fire coach Nathaniel Hackett

Nathaniel Hackett.jpg
Posted at 10:52 AM, Dec 26, 2022

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Losers of 10 of their last 12 games and saddled with the NFL's worst offense, the Broncos fired coach Nathaniel Hackett with two weeks remaining in the season.

Moves like this are a testament to just how bad things have gone. Hackett represents only the fifth coach not to finish his debut season, joining Urban Meyer, Bobby Petrino, Pete McCulley and Lou Holtz.

The Broncos have named veteran coach Jerry Rosburg the interim coach. The team let players know in a Monday meeting. Sources confirmed that Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero was offered the interim spot and elected to stay as defensive coordinator over the final two weeks.

General Manager George Patron will remain in place, but CEO Greg Penner will lead the search for the team's fifth coach since they won Super Bowl 50 in 2016. Teams with vacancies are permitted to contact coaching candidates now.

Penner issued the following statement on Monday after the announcement:

On behalf of our ownership and organization, I want to thank Nathaniel Hackett for his dedication as head coach of the Denver Broncos. We sincerely appreciate Nathaniel's efforts and wish him and his family all the best in the future.

Following extensive conversations with George and our ownership group, we determined a new direction would ultimately be in the best interest of the Broncos. This change was made now out of respect for everyone involved and allows us to immediately begin the search for a new head coach.

We recognize and appreciate this organization's championship history, and we understand we have not met that standard. Our fans deserve much better, and I can't say enough about their loyalty during such a challenging stretch for our team.

Moving forward, we will carefully evaluate every aspect of our football operations and make whatever changes are necessary to restore this franchise's winning tradition.

I will lead our head coaching search with support from our ownership group and George, whom I have confidence in as our general manager. As we begin the process of selecting our next head coach, we remain focused on playing competitive football to finish the season on a positive note.

"Always a sad day when someone loses their job when they put all their heart into it," said kicker Brandon McManus, the longest-tenured Broncos player. "Whole season could have been different if Seattle kick was one foot to the right."

Special teams coach Dwayne Stukes and Offensive line coach Butch Barry were also let go on Monday, the team announced. Mike Mallory will coach special teams and Ben Steele will coach the offensive line.

The Broncos bottomed out Sunday, embarrassed 51-14 by the Los Angeles Rams, a loss that included fighting on the sidelines and outbursts, reflecting Hackett's lost control. Randy Gregory was suspended for one game Monday for punching the Rams' Oday Aboushi, who was also suspended for violating sportsmanlike conduct policies. The Rams' faceplant came on the heels of an embarrassing defeat a few weeks prior to the Carolina Panthers. Then there was the 22-16 overtime defeat to the Raiders that kept the Broncos winless in the AFC West (0-4) and 5-17 in the division since 2019.

Aside from a Dec. 18 win against the Arizona Cardinals, the Broncos haven't won a single game in the United States since Sept. 25 and have not won a road game on American soil since last Nov. 7 at Dallas. The team ranks as arguably the NFL's biggest disappointment. With the addition of Hackett, a first-time head coach with an offensive background, and nine-time Pro Bowler Russell Wilson, the franchise reset expectations, believing it would end its six-year playoff drought and run of five straight losing seasons. Both streaks have been extended.

Beginning in training camp, everything has gone wrong, Hackett's decisions backfiring.

He declined to play the Broncos' starters in the preseason to prioritize the team's health. The Broncos lead the league in injuries and salary on the injured reserve list, including receiver Tim Patrick (torn ACL), and running back Javonte Williams (ACL). And they lead the NFL in hamstring injuries. Hackett chose to let Brandon McManus kick rather than Wilson cook on fourth-and-5 on the final drive in the season opener at Seattle as the Broncos fell 17-16, a defeat that amplified scrutiny of Hackett and set the tone for nine one-score losses this season.

Following mocking by the home crowd over play clock issues against Houston, Hackett pulled veteran coach Jerry Rosburg out of retirement to help clean up the gameday operation. It helped obvious problems, but the Broncos continue to lead the league in penalties.

As the offense continued to skid in September, Hackett was asked repeatedly if he would give up playing-calling. He relinquished the duties against the Raiders, turning them over to quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak rather than offensive coordinator Justin Outten, a reflection of Outten's inexperience and Hackett’s underwhelming offensive staff. Kubiak ran the Vikings' 13th-ranked offense last season, and delivered some hope in the first half of the Raiders’ loss. The Broncos scored a touchdown on their opening drive for the first time this season, showing balance — 31 pass attempts, 28 runs — and more efficiency in the passing game with a 77 percent completion percentage compared to Wilson's 59 percent in his previous eight starts. However, the Broncos hit the skids in the second half. They have never improved on third down. They have scored one touchdown in the third quarter all season.

After the Panthers loss, Hackett repeated his mantra that it “starts with me,” regarding accountability for the mess. But outside of cutting Melvin Gordon, nothing really changed. The Broncos are getting worse, not better.

Players publicly and privately have spoken about the positive energy Hackett has created and praise him for building trust and relationships. However, it has not translated to the field, and there were two player incidents on the sidelines.
Against Carolina, tension boiled over as nose tackle Mike Purcell snapped at Wilson to get it “bleeping going.” Both players say there was no lingering animosity, but it provided a snapshot of a season gone wrong. And then Sunday, Dalton Risner pushed backup quarterback Brett Rypien. Risner said they hugged it out, but it was a snapshot of the frustration and Hackett's lack of control.

The search for a new Broncos head coach

Capers owns a 48-80 record in eight seasons with the Panthers and Texans, having last led a team in 2005.

Evero has received head coaching buzz for his work with the Broncos' unit, which has ranked among the best in points allowed and on third down until Sunday.

Hackett's failure represents a misfire by general manager George Paton. Paton hired Hackett, the Packers offensive coordinator, after interviewing 10 candidates over 20 days last January. Paton praised Hackett as a "brilliant offensive mind, outstanding teacher and communicator with a strong vision for all three phases" of the game.

Only Denver's defense has delivered. The offense has been a mess since the first game, and the special teams unit has morphed into a mess of penalties, poor decisions and blocked kicks, including one against the Raiders.

Hackett seemed miscast early on, the task of calling plays, which he did not do in Green Bay, designing an offense for Wilson and creating a winning culture, proving too much for the Broncos' fourth coach since 2015 (Gary Kubiak, Vance Joseph, Vic Fangio, Hackett).

Denver Broncos fire coach Nathaniel Hackett, sources say