ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has agreed to become the Denver Broncos’ new head coach.
He replaces Vic Fangio, who was fired a day after the Broncos finished 7-10, their sixth consecutive season out of the playoffs and fifth straight year they’ve failed to post a winning record.
Hackett, 42, brings energy and enthusiasm to a franchise that has foundered ever since winning Super Bowl 50 six years ago.
Might he also bring No. 12 with him from Green Bay?
Choosing Hackett sent speculation skyrocketing that the Broncos were trying to lure star Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers to Denver, perhaps along with his star receiver Davante Adams, who is set to hit free agency in March.
Rodgers, who turned 38 last month in what could be his fourth MVP season, is contemplating his future, including retirement, after the Packers’ early exit from the playoffs last weekend. Top-seeded Green Bay was upset at home 13-10 by the San Francisco 49ers.
The Packers want Rodgers to return for an 18th season, saying they had no plays for a rebuild. Rodgers, who skipped all of last year’s offseason before reporting for training camp with a reworked contract, said he’ll give the team an answer soon.
Hackett, 42, emerged as the front-runner on his own merits, however, which includes his work with quarterback Blake Bortles as Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator from 2016-18 before he went to Green Bay and helped Matt LaFleur win a record 39 regular-season games in his first three seasons as head coach.
Hackett, who has never been a head coach, has become well known for his football smarts, his energy and his enthusiasm. Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling tweeted: “One of the absolute best human beings and smartest coaches around. Man this makes my heart happy seeing great people get rewarded. I wish my guy nothing but the absolute best.”
Hackett also has a big fan in Rodgers, who said in 2020 that “there’s nobody in the building that brings me more joy or is more fun to be around than Nathaniel Hackett,” whom he called “a close confidant and friend besides a fantastic coach.”
“I just really, really can’t express enough how important he is to our team in so many ways. He’s incredible in front of the room. He brings a lot of great energy” to meetings that can be tedious, Rodgers said. “Never feels that way with him in front of the room. … I think he’s got a great mind.”
Rodgers and Hackett, who is the son of former college and NFL coach Paul Hackett, connected quickly over their shared background in and affinity for the West Coast offense with its quick crossing routes.
“Obviously, I’m a little biased because he comes from the old-school West Coast tree,” Rodgers said. “And feeling like I grew up in the West Coast offense, as well, with Mike Sherman and Mike McCarthy, I have a lot of affection for some of those old West Coast plays. And I do have a dialogue with his father, Paul, usually about specific West Coast concepts.
“Hack has been a really important part of our culture change and a part of our success on offense. I love him. Hope he doesn’t go anywhere — unless I do.”
Hackett also interviewed for the head coaching vacancies in Chicago, Minnesota and Jacksonville this month.
Awaiting Hackett in Denver, where he flew in for a second interview on Monday, is a young talented roster and a fanbase hungry for a shot of adrenalin on offense. He was the only finalist to get a second in-person interview in Denver.
“Nathaniel Hackett is a dynamic leader and coach whose intelligence, innovation and charisma impressed us from the very start of this process,” general manager George Paton said in a statement. “In addition to having a brilliant offensive mind, Nathaniel is an outstanding teacher and communicator with a strong vision for all three phases of our team.”
Paton interviewed 10 candidates to replace Fangio. After crisscrossing the country with a team of evaluators, Paton narrowed that list to three finalists: Hackett, Cowboys defensive coordinator and former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell.
Hackett becomes the 18th head coach in franchise history and the first one with offensive roots since Gary Kubiak, who stepped down after the 2016 season, one year after leading the Broncos to their third Super Bowl title. Vance Joseph went 11-21 in two seasons and Fangio was 19-30 in three. Fangio has drawn interest from the Jaguars either as head coach or defensive coordinator.
Despite a last-place finish in the competitive AFC West, the Broncos are seen as a rising team if they get the right head coach and a quarterback who can capitalize on a talented young offense that features receivers Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick and K.J. Hamler, tight ends Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam and bulldozing running back Javonte Williams.
Some of those playmakers would undoubtedly get packaged in any deal for a veteran quarterback if the Broncos decide not to grab a QB in the draft, where the choices aren’t as enticing as usual.
Fangio’s unremarkable tenure was dotted by poor quarterback play, uncreative offenses that struggled to score 20 points a game under Pat Shurmur and sloppy special teams play under Tom McMahon, all of which negated a stout defense that was Fangio’s calling card.
The Broncos have had 10 starting quarterbacks and no playoff appearances since Peyton Manning’s retirement six years ago, and they are in the market for an upgrade from oft-injured Teddy Bridgewater (7-7), who is set to become a free agent in March, and Drew Lock (0-3) this offseason.
They also are on the lookout for a new owner. Joe Ellis, the team’s outgoing president and CEO, said once a new head coach was in place he’d release details about the franchise’s future in what’s expected to be the most expensive team sale in U.S. sports history.
The Broncos are valued at nearly $4 billion and if sold for that much would surpass the record $3.35 billion that Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai paid for the Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center in 2019.
John Elway, who is in the final months as the team’s president of football operations, and Manning, who has lived in Denver since his retirement, are expected to get involved in the bidding as minority partners of billionaires competing to win the NFL’s approval to acquire the franchise.
The Broncos won two Super Bowl titles in the late 1990s with Elway under center and again in 2016 with Elway in the front office and Manning at quarterback in the final game of his Hall of Fame career.
The only holdover from their most recent championship parade is kicker Brandon McManus. Paton traded Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller to the Rams for a pair of second-day draft picks last fall and Miller has shined in his return to the postseason. The Rams host the 49ers on Sunday in the NFC championship.
The second- and third-round draft choices the Broncos received in return for Miller give Paton 11 draft picks in April, including five of the top 100, which he could either use to beef up his roster again or package to acquire a quarterback such as Rodgers or the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson if they are made available.
With contributions from AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Green Bay.
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