ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In his first hours on the job, new Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett has already met the expectations General Manager George Paton set.
"He walks in a room, he lights it up," Paton said in an opening statement to the media, and minutes later, everyone in the Broncos' team meeting room could understand why.
Over the next hour, Hackett spoke about the normal topics — football philosophy, his vision regarding the quarterback position, his background in the game — and at times went well beyond them. He spoke of which "Star Wars" character he most identifies with (Han Solo, for the record), his time learning neurobiology at UC-Davis and his practical jokes in those neurobiology classes, all with the same kind of exuberance that is core to who he is and why he was so sought-after as a head-coaching candidate.
"His enthusiasm is infectious," Paton said. "His knowledge of the game is really remarkable. He's going to bring a lot of juice, he's going to bring a lot of energy to our building. We did a lot of background on all the candidates and the word that kind of resonated other than his football acumen was 'connection.' Nathaniel has a unique ability to connect with everyone he touches."
As the Washington Post's Nicki Jhabvala wrote in an October profile, Hackett is a "Renaissance man" unlike most people in the NFL coaching world. Because that allows him an ability to make inroads with so many people, Hackett is able to open up communication easily up and down an NFL roster.
"He's a unique competitor who's all about winning, but he's different than any coach I've really been around," Paton said. "He has a lot of other interests, he's all about family. Any communication you have with Nathaniel, it's about his family. It was very refreshing. He's about cultivating relationships. He's big into the arts, helping others, volunteering in the community, which is why I think he connects with so many different types of people."
And then there's the positive energy he brings, which, he said during his initial interview with Paton and the Broncos' search committee, will be a constant.
"Energy is something you're always going to find from me as a leader," Hackett said. "Always going to have energy, always going to bring the juice — just simply because I love it. I love what I do for a living, and it's a lot of fun if you let it be fun."
It was hard for Hackett to pinpoint on Friday exactly where that outlook comes from, but it's always been in him, he said.
"I think it's just kind of how I've always been," Hackett said. "I've always enjoyed life, grateful for everything that I have and the people that I'm allowed to be around. Yeah, I guess it's just thanks to mom and dad. And my grandma was very charismatic too, so I got a lot from her."
In his line of work, Hackett utilizes it to his and his players' benefit; he works it into meetings and how he teaches so that they enjoy being around him as much as he enjoys being around them.
"It's just got to be that genuine juice, that genuine energy," Hackett said. "It's got to be who you are. It's got to be just vibrating through the whole facility. Everybody's got to feel it. It's not just one person you have to save it up for, [like] your star player. It's got to be with anybody and everybody. So I just think it's something that's so important. This whole generation, this whole world, is changing. I mean, I call it that YouTube generation world. Just meetings are different from when I first started, on how I try to keep people's attention and inspire them and keep them excited. So I think that as a coach, you always have to have that excitement and energy to find different ways to approach it and can get them all fired up to learn and get better each day."
But while that all sounds good, Hackett acknowledged that success must follow to meet the larger expectations after an introductory press conference.
"I want to create this environment where people want to come into this building and work and have fun doing it," Hackett said. "But let's make no mistake: It's only fun when you win football games. So we've got to win, and that's what we want to do. I'm so excited to work with this organization with these players, meeting each one of them, getting to know them. This is a young, hungry football team. We've got to get over the hump, we've got to be excited about it and we all have to do this. …
"It's about people, it's about communication, it's about talking with one another. It's about all of us coming together and making something special here and really making Broncos Country proud, because that's what it's all about. We've got to win some games."
Take a look at new Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett's first day on the job, from his flight to Denver through interview and portrait sessions.