CENTENNIAL, Colo. — The leased FlexJet landed a little before noon Monday at the airport just a few miles down the road from Denver Broncos headquarters.
The private jet was similar to the ones Broncos' general manager George Paton and his five-person head coach search committee used during their 10 candidate interviews-in-seven-cities-over-nine days excursion that concluded Friday night.
A few seconds after the jet’s stairs dropped, Nathaniel Hackett stepped down, shook hands with awaiting Broncos’ front-office executives Ray Jackson and Chip Conway, quickly climbed into the team’s white SUV courtesy vehicle, and drove off the tarmac, through a sensored security gate and down the curvy road to team headquarters.
Hackett, the Green Bay Packers’ offensive coordinator the past three seasons, had arrived for his second interview with the Broncos for their vacant position of head coach. Could star quarterback Aaron Rodgers be far behind?
There are also plans for Dan Quinn, who had been considered by many as the frontrunner to become the Broncos’ fifth head coach in nine seasons, to get a second interview with Denver at team headquarters this week, sources tell 9NEWS.
However, a firm day had not been finalized, which could be an indication Hackett will get the all-important first chance to close a deal with Broncos’ General Manager George Paton.
A third finalist, Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, cannot be interviewed this week because his team is preparing to play Sunday in the NFC Championship Game against their division-rival the San Francisco 49ers. The earliest O’Connell can be interviewed is likely Tuesday of next week.
Initial signs, though, point to the 42-year-old Hackett as the Broncos’ choice. Although he doesn’t call plays for Rodgers and the Packers’ offense, he does work alongside head coach Matt LaFleur in putting together the game plans. More importantly, Rodgers reportedly enjoys working with Hackett.
Important because there appears to be a decent chance Rodgers, who is expected to receive his fourth league MVP award and has led the Packers to one Super Bowl championship and five conference championship games in the past 12 years, may play somewhere other than Green Bay in 2022.
He feuded with team management last offseason to the point where he hoped to be traded. In some part because his fiancé, actress Shailene Woodley, has roots in Boulder, Rodgers seemed headed to Denver in a trade – providing Green Bay agreed to move him.
The Packers did not. However, as a condition to his return to Green Bay, his team of 17 years, Rodgers’ contract was reworked so that he would have a potentially prohibitive $46.4 million cap hit in 2022 while the Packers’ cap space for next season currently sits at minus-$38.4 million.
If the Packers finally surrender this offseason and relunctantly put Rodgers on the trade market, the quarterback-starved Broncos figure to be the first team in line.
And if Hackett is the Broncos’ head coach, Rodgers may have another reason to force the Packers to deal him west. Even without his potential package deal with Rodgers, Hackett would be a legitimate head coach candidate. Starting with he's been around the game his entire life as the son of Paul Hackett, who spent more than 40 years as an NFL and college offensive coach. So Nathaniel Hackett grew up around the game – just as Paton did as the son of Los Angeles-area high school coach.
Once Nathaniel Hackett got into coaching, he quickly became a Doug Marrone protege. Marrone was the head coach and Hackett his offensive coordinator for two years at Syracuse in 2011-12. The Orangemen went from 5-7 in their first year to 8-5 the next. Marrone’s offense went from 84th in country in 2011 to 56th.
The duo then spent two years with the Buffalo Bills and again improved from 6-10 in 2013 to 9-7 in 2014. Hackett’s offense went from 22nd in scoring the first year to 18th the next. Then it was on to Jacksonville where in Marrone’s first full season as head coach and Hackett’s as offensive coordinator, the Jaguars went a surprising 10-6 to reach the 2017 AFC Championship Game and even with the passing-challenged Blake Bortles at quarterback finished fifth in offensive scoring with 26.1 points.
While the 2018 season was a disaster for practically all involved in Jacksonville, particularly Marrone, Hackett not only survived, he landed the next season in Green Bay with LaFleur and Rodgers in 2019. The Packers won 13 regular-season games in each of their three seasons since although they also suffered disappointing playoff losses each year.
While the postseason setbacks were disheartening for Hackett the Packers’ offensive coordinator, the latest was perhaps fortuitous timing for Hackett the head coach candidate as he was available for the first private jet ride in Monday for a second interview with the Broncos.
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