ENGLEWOOD — Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers did not appreciate Broncos coach Sean Payton skewering his good friend.
Three days after Payton called Nathaniel Hackett's performance in Denver "one of the worst coaching jobs in NFL history," Rodgers called Payton "insecure" before channeling Will Smith at 2022 The Oscars.
"Yeah, I love Nathaniel Hackett, and those comments were very surprising, for a coach to do that to another coach," Rodgers said Sunday in an interview with NFL Network's Peter Schrager. "I thought it was way out of line, inappropriate, and I think he needs to keep my coach's name out of his mouth."
Rodgers has called Hackett his favorite all-time coach, something he has mentioned for years, even before he took the Denver job. Hackett went 4-11 with the Broncos, fired with two games remaining in his first season after a cascade of failures, including the worst-scoring offense, an endless stream of penalties and multiple fights on the sidelines. Players viewed Hackett as a good person, but the results were indefensible.
Payton first criticized Hackett at the NFL Owners Meetings in March, saying it was impossible to evaluate certain offensive players because the offense was so dysfunctional, while not hiding his disgust for the special teams. However, in an interview in The USA Today last week, Payton mentioned Hackett by name, considered a violation of the coaching fraternity. He also criticized the Jets for appearing on “Hard Knocks,” even though that was not their choice.
Friday, Payton said he regretted how outspoken he was. Broncos Country, based on social media reactions, loved his criticism of Hackett, but Payton went too far when he mentioned the current team president and general manager as responsible for quarterback Russell Wilson’s alarming spiral.
There were members of the Broncos organization disappointed in the candor even if it has been said behind closed doors. Payton apologized to his team for making headlines after instructing them to keep a low profile this offseason.
"Listen, I had one of those moments where I still had my Fox hat on, and not my coaching hat on. I said this to the team, 'That we have had a great offseason relative to that, and here I am the veteran stepping in it.' And you know it was a learning experience for me. It was a mistake, obviously. I needed a little bit more filter,” Payton said.
“There’s a pound of flesh for these guys. As a coach you stick up for them. And after a while we are past that season last year. I said what I said. Obviously, I needed a little bit more restraint. And I regret that. What I told the team, if it can happen (to me) -- and I think I am pretty good with the media, pretty savvy. Jarrett (Bell) is a good a friend and good at his job – I had a moment. (It was) two lattes in the morning, he's the first person I see and 40 minutes later I am regretting it.”
Rodgers accepted a trade to the Jets, in part, because of his kinship with Hackett. Hackett was his offensive coordinator when he won back-to-back MVPs with Green Bay in 2020 and 2021, though he did not call the plays.
“My love for Hack goes deep, you know, we had some great years together in Green Bay. (We) kept in touch, love him and his family, he's an incredible family man and an incredible dad. And on the field, he's arguably my favorite coach I've ever had in the NFL. Just his approach to it -- he makes it fun, how he cares about the guys, just how he goes about his business with respect, with leadership, with honesty, with integrity," Rodgers said.
“"It made me feel bad that someone (Payton) who's accomplished a lot in the league is that insecure that they have to take another man down to set themselves up for some sort of easy fall if it doesn't go well for that team this year."
The Broncos host the Jets on Oct. 8. It can’t get here fast enough.