In a special bye-week edition of our profiles, this week’s focus is on first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett.

When he was brought on, Hackett was considered the polar opposite of the fired, former Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio. He was an offensive-minded coach, whereas Fangio was defensive-oriented. Hackett was also 22 years younger and an extrovert who always emphasized the importance of fun. Fangio was famous for his “no music at practice” rule.

Unfortunately for Hackett, with a 3-5 start to the season, there are already talks of him being on the hot seat. However, with the win against the Jacksonville Jaguars before the bye, there’s hope that the Broncos, led by Hackett, may finally be on the right track.

An Introduction to Football

Hackett was born in Fullerton, CA. 

He spent most of his childhood moving around for his dad’s job. His dad, Paul, started coaching at the collegiate level in 1969 before entering the NFL in 1981. 

Hackett developed a love for football at a young age as he got the opportunity to be a ball boy for his dad’s teams through the years. He spent time as a ball boy for the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Panthers, and the Kansas City Chiefs.

In 1998, he decided to attend UC Davis for college. He played linebacker and long snapper during his four-year career and earned a letter every season. He redshirted the 1998 season in which he won the team’s George Belenis Award for Most Outstanding Redshirt.

Away from football, Hackett was a neurobiology major with aspirations to attend medical school. He also taught hip-hop dance classes and was president of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity.

Ultimately, Hackett decided the medical field was too serious for his easygoing personality and pursued coaching professionally instead.  

Entering the Coaching Sphere

He sent out letters to 30 college programs seeking an entry-level position. Former Davis assistant coach, Keith Buckley, called him, offering him a job. He became an assistant coach for his alma mater in 2003 and later Stanford. 

While at Stanford, Hackett met his now-wife, Megan, a graduate student at the time. They got married in July 2006 and have since had four children.

Hackett entered the NFL sphere in 2006 when he became an offensive quality control coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under Jon Gruden. 

He served there for two years before moving to the Buffalo Bills in that same role for the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Following the 2009 season, the entire Bills staff was fired.

He received a phone call from the new Syracuse head coach, Doug Marrone, in 2010 about becoming the new quarterbacks’ coach. He accepted and, in 2011, was promoted to offensive coordinator. 

After the 2012 season, Marrone was hired by the Buffalo Bills as the new head coach and told Hackett, “You’re my coordinator.”

Success In the NFL

Unfortunately, the new regime found little success going 6-10 and 9-7 in the next two years.  

Hackett worked with rookie quarterback EJ Manuel in the first season and veteran quarterback Kyle Orton the following year. Amid an ownership change, Marrone stepped down. New coach Rex Ryan decided not to retain Hackett.

Hackett wasn’t out of a job for long, though, as he followed Marrone to the Jacksonville Jaguars as the quarterbacks’ coach.

In 2016, Marrone was promoted to head coach following the firing of Gus Bradley. Then, in 2017, Hackett became the team’s new offensive coordinator. 

2017 was a career year for Hackett. Working alongside quarterback Blake Bortles and rookie running back Leonard Fournette, the Jaguars had the league’s best rushing attack in 2017. Jacksonville won the AFC South and appeared in the AFC Championship game, in which they lost by only four points. 

The Jaguars weren’t able to replicate their 2017 success in 2018. After a 3-8 start, Hackett’s longtime mentor, Marrone, fired him in a move that came as a surprise. Hackett was stunned, saying, “I guess he didn’t think I was good enough; that’s the only thing I can think of. It’s a shock.”

In 2019, Hackett was hired by Matt LaFleur, the new head coach for the Green Bay Packers. 

During his tenure as Green Bay’s offensive coordinator, quarterback Aaron Rodgers won the NFL’s MVP award in 2020 and 2021. The Packers also had the league’s best-scoring offense in the 2020 season. 

Finally, a Head Coach

In 2022, Hackett was one of the hottest head coaching prospects. He had interviews with the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, and Jacksonville Jaguars along with the Broncos.

The 2022 offseason was also dominated by rumors of a new landing spot for Rodgers, who had openly expressed a distaste for management decisions. He vouched heavily for Hackett, telling reporters in 2021, “Nobody in the building brings me more joy or is more fun. I hope he doesn’t go anywhere…unless I do.”

After a second interview with the Denver Broncos that lasted over nine hours, Hackett was officially named their new head coach on January 27, 2022. 

On March 8, Rodgers announced that he was staying put with the Green Bay Packers. 

However, that announcement was quickly followed by news that the Broncos had traded for Russell Wilson. Denver was suddenly considered Super Bowl contenders, and many thought Hackett and Wilson were a match made in heaven.

Fast forward to now, heading into Week 9, the Broncos are atrocious on offense. They are No. 31 in scoring offense with just 15.1 points per game, No. 29 in first downs per game, averaging only 17, and tied for last in touchdown passes per game at 0.75. 

“The amount of adversity that we’ve faced, I don’t care what anybody says; it’s more than anybody.” Hackett recently told Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated.

“I gotta learn how to call plays for Russ, I gotta learn how to call plays for all the players. And we’ve been in the spotlight, all those things. And listen, we’ve got so much more that we have to do, so much more we have to correct. And there’s so much more room for being better.”

Owning up to his mistakes is a huge plus for Hackett.

And the good news is, Hackett has faced adversity in his coaching career many times before and has managed to rise to the occasion. Time will tell if he can do it again.