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'A darn good football mind': The Athletic's Matt Schneidman details Nathaniel Hackett's head coaching candidacy


The Broncos continued their head-coaching interviews on Saturday, as George Paton and Co. spoke with Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.

Hackett, who has served as the Packers' offensive coordinator for the last three seasons, has helped Green Bay post one of the league's best offenses and is a candidate for several of the NFL's head coaching jobs.

To learn more about Hackett and his candidacy for the role, spoke with The Athletic's Matt Schneidman.

Aric DiLalla: Nathaniel Hackett has been one of the most talked about candidates during this cycle. What do you think has made him stand out to teams?

Matt Schneidman: "He's not only done this before — and 'done this' meaning orchestrated really good offenses. He doesn't call the plays in Green Bay — that's obviously [head coach] Matt LaFleur — but Nathaniel Hackett was the offensive coordinator of the Jaguars when they made it to the AFC Championship just a couple of years ago with Blake Bortles as their quarterback. No shame on Blake Bortles — and yes, that team had a really, really good defense — but Nathaniel Hackett has proven he can call plays with the best of them and get the most out of an offense that needs it. In terms of him being a head coach, we were talking to Aaron Rodgers the other day and he said he thinks the most important qualities of a head coach are not so much the X's and O's — that's important — but the ability to command a room, relate to your players, earn the respect of everyone in the building and get people to buy in. Talk to any player at Lambeau Field or any coach, and nobody does that better than Nathaniel Hackett.

"I remember back, it started in 2019 when he got here, he kind of renamed the red zone, the gold zone. He's a big Mike Myers, Austin Powers fan — and Austin Powers 'Goldmember.' They kind of modeled their whole red-zone mantra after Austin Powers and 'Goldmember' and the gold zone. So every time they would score a touchdown, they would throw their hands up and scream 'I love gold,' like they did in Austin Powers. It worked last year, because 80 percent of their red-zone trips were touchdowns. And that was the No. 1 red-zone offense in the NFL, and Nathaniel Hackett's specialty on staff here in Green Bay is conducting red zone and planning what they're going to do in the red zone. Just his ability to get guys invested, make it fun — and I know that might be cliche — but Aaron Rodgers has talked a lot about how much he enjoys coming to work every day. And that's in large part due to what Nathaniel Hackett has brought to this staff, not only from an X's and O's standpoint but everything else that's just as important."

AD: George Paton has mentioned that leadership is the No. 1 thing he's looking for. At least for me, when I think of leadership I think of serious, very intense at times. Does Nate Hackett show a different way to approach that leadership role?

MS: "Absolutely. This is my third year of covering him, and I've never seen him be serious. It's kind of an aside, but I remember back when we were allowed in locker rooms, we were in the visiting locker room in Minnesota in Week 16 of the 2019 season when the Packers clinched the NFC North. I was walking around the locker room doing interviews and Hackett just walks over to me and hugs me and lifts me up off the ground because he was so excited. This is a guy that has so much energy. Just a real positive influence. And you bring up a good point: There is that stereotype about leadership who everyone bows down to and takes them for every word. But sometimes, true leadership is being able to properly delegate responsibilities to everyone below you and being on the same level as someone. Nathaniel Hackett is 42 years old, Aaron Rodgers is 38. They're not that far apart. It's more of a — I don't want to say a Friend 1 and Friend 2 — but it doesn't really seem like a coach and player. The leadership that Hackett has displayed on that offensive staff is making everyone seem like he's equal with them, getting everyone to buy in and having that fun. Because in reality, we're in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It's cold as heck every day, and you've got to have some fun with it, otherwise you're going to be miserable."

AD: How much do you think his dad's history in the NFL has helped prepare him for this moment?

MS: "Yeah, obviously Paul has had a huge influence on him and his philosophies and what he knows about offense. But I do think in today's NFL, people sometimes get hired, and maybe it's a little bit with the head coach I cover, because he came from the Sean McVay tree — obviously Matt LaFleur has since proved that he's very much deserving of a head-coaching job on his own — but maybe who you know is valued a little bit more than it should be and what you know should be valued more. So yes, Nathaniel Hackett has the name, and his father's influence with the whole west coast system has drilled into his mind some genius offensive concepts since he was a young kid pretty much. But Nathaniel Hackett has shown … he's a damn good coach on his own, and I think that's why he's deserving of a head coaching job. People will look at it and say, 'Oh, he doesn't call plays. Maybe he should be an offensive coordinator where he calls plays first.' He's just as much a part of the play-calling, I would say, as Matt LaFleur. It's very collaborative. So if there's any Broncos fans out there who say, 'Oh he hasn't called plays in three years since he was with the Jaguars,' I don't think that should be a worry."

AD: Whenever there's a star quarterback in place, how do you assign parts of the offensive success to Hackett vs. what Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur have done?

MS: "We obviously saw the end of the Rodgers-Mike McCarthy relationship end kind of strenuously. That was before I covered the team, but when I got here in 2019, it's been as harmonious as ever. Rodgers really likes LaFleur, but he has not talked higher about anyone, more glowingly about anyone, than Nathaniel Hackett. And it's not only what I was talking about earlier with the energy and the fun he brings to the job every day, but he's a darn good football mind. Yes, Aaron Rodgers is always going to get more credit than a head coach probably, because of the freedom they give him at the line of scrimmage, him basically calling the plays for his own two-minute drills and all that stuff and just the talent that he has. And rightfully so, he deserves that. But it takes a really good offensive coordinator, a really good head coach not only to design a scheme to put him in position to make all those plays but to know when to step back and fight your ego a little bit and say, 'You know what, I'm going to delegate a little more responsibility to our quarterback because of who he is.' I wouldn't say it's a knock on LaFleur or Hackett to say maybe they don't do as much in the offense as a typical head coach because of who they have as a quarterback. I would say it's a testament to them knowing their place in this offense and saying, 'OK, when I need to step back and let Aaron do everything, I will.' And that is another sign of a good head coach: being able to delegate those responsibilities appropriately. As you've seen, it's helped the Packers' offense out just fine."