ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The need to repair one of the league’s most consistently clunky offenses was finally so big, so unavoidable, the NFL’s most patient coaching search abruptly turned into the offseason’s first hire. Sometime late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning, the Denver Broncos agreed to a deal with Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to be the team’s next head coach.
Broncos general manager George Paton talked to the most candidates of any team on the hunt for a head coach in the first round of interviews — 10 — and then scrapped his second interview schedule when the Broncos finalized a deal with Hackett.
Hackett, 42, known throughout the league for his wit, experience and — most importantly to the Broncos — offensive know-how to go with top-shelf work with quarterbacks, has plenty of heavy lifting ahead. He presented himself as the guy for the job, and Paton then finished a deal before Hackett could interview a second time with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Broncos’ plan to give Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell a second interview were tossed aside on the way to the dotted line.
Hackett is the third consecutive first-time head coach the Broncos have hired. The other two — Vance Joseph and Vic Fangio — were fired after two and three seasons, respectively. Both were dragged onto the hot seat by an offense that has not averaged more than 23 points per game since 2014 and hasn’t averaged more than 21 points per game since 2015.
During that span, the Broncos have had three seasons, including the most recent one, when they averaged fewer than 20 points per game.
Two things happen in today’s NFL when your offense lives in that scoring neighborhood. First, you miss the playoffs as the Broncos have for six consecutive seasons, and second, you fire your coaches, as the Broncos have after the 2018 and 2021 seasons.
Hackett, whose father, Paul, was a longtime coach in both college and the NFL, had the deepest coaching résumé of any of the candidates interviewed. That he spent the past three seasons as the Packers’ offensive coordinator will keep the Aaron Rodgers-to-the-Broncos hype train rolling for the foreseeable future.
But the Broncos can’t, and didn’t, hire Hackett because he might be able to help the Broncos get Rodgers if Rodgers doesn’t retire or if the Packers even decide to be the first team in recorded football history to move on from a quarterback coming off (likely) back-to-back MVP awards.
That’s not good business, and if the Broncos really did do that, they should probably move Hackett along, start the interviews over again and save everybody the trouble two seasons from now.
No, Hackett was hired to fix the offense with whatever quarterback options arrive. The Broncos don’t need a reinvent-the-wheel offense, they don’t need to shatter scoring records like 2013’s festival of points behind quarterback Peyton Manning. But they do need an offense that doesn’t get the quarterback, the offensive coordinator and the head coach fired over and over again.
They do need an offense that matches the roster they have, not the one they wish they had. They do need an offense that simply isn’t the Broncos’ biggest opponent each week, because their own offense has been just that: bad field position, bad choices, bad turnovers and — usually — bad results.
Stephen A. Smith is upset that the Broncos hired Nathaniel Hackett over Eric Bieniemy to be their new head coach.
Joseph and Fangio showed, more often than they’ll likely be given credit for, they could be NFL head coaches, and each had moments when he had an opportunity to take the next step on the developmental curve and be a longer-term solution in the job. But neither managed his own staff enough, especially on the “other” side of the ball. Each fired an offensive coordinator in the first season of his tenure, but neither was aggressive enough in-house to make sure the problems got fixed. Those problems eventually earned each a shove out the door.
Neither fixed the team’s special teams enough. They didn’t iron out some in-game struggles such as replay challenges.
They didn’t, bottom line, coach their own coaches enough.
That’s all on Hackett’s plate now as the 18th coach in franchise history. He’s paid his dues, many in the league believe it is his time to be a head coach, and he arrives at one of the best jobs available. The Broncos, specifically Paton as well as team CEO Joe Ellis, will soon say they found the “leader” they want, and they’ll likely use “energy” somewhere in the welcome remarks.
All involved will hope Hackett, as he unpacks all those boxes in his new office, brought some touchdowns with him.