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'It was time to make a decision': Why the Broncos made an in-season coaching change


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos' decision to part ways with Nathaniel Hackett was not solely about Sunday's loss to the Rams.

The 51-14 defeat — which General Manager George Paton described as "embarrassing" and "unacceptable" — was perhaps the low point of a 4-11 start to the 2022 season. But while it was the end point, Broncos Owner and CEO Greg Penner explained far more went into the decision to move on from Hackett after a 15-game tenure.

"We have to look at the full body of work, and it wasn't just a decision based on what happened on Sunday," Penner said Tuesday. "George said Sunday was an embarrassment to our organization. I know the players feel that way about it, the staff, ownership — everyone. It wasn't just about Sunday. It was about the full body of work. For a number of reasons, it just wasn't the right fit."

Echoing his prior statement, Penner emphasized the Broncos' play in 2022 was not up to the organization's high standards. The Broncos felt they were poised for a successful year — players spoke of a Super Bowl-or-bust mentality before the season — and Denver fell well short of those expectations.

"The main message … is I'm sorry to the fans," Penner said. "I think the frustration, obviously, of a number of losing seasons is high, but I think this season it's even higher because of the expectations that we had coming in. We felt like we had a lot of pieces in place for a very successful season. I know the players in this building — we've got good players. And we didn't put the pieces together. Our fans have been patient. I think we've got the best fans in the world. But we need to put a better product on the field."

And ultimately, the product on display Sunday against the Rams was enough to determine the timing of the move. While the blowout loss — the Broncos' largest since 2010 — was not the sole factor in the decision, it was the impetus behind the timing.

Penner said he did not enter Sunday's game expecting to make an in-season coaching change, and he hoped to wait to the end of the season to make any decisions. The nature of the loss — combined with a sideline scuffle and postgame altercation — led to the more immediate timing.

"After we saw the effort that we put forward on Sunday, [and] some of the things that were going on off the field, we just felt like it was time to make a decision," Penner said. "Once we had made that decision, it was in all fairness to the organization and to Nathaniel, we felt we needed to move forward to make a change."

The Broncos' lack of identity on offense and special teams — which contributed heavily to Denver's worst start since 2010 — also played a major role in the change. While Denver's defense has a strong identity, both Penner and Paton said they were unable to see the same from the team's other two units.

"I'd say our defense has had a very strong identity," Penner said. "This past Sunday, I think, was the first time that slipped. On offense … — again, I'm new to this — but as we watched the team week to week, even in game, there were times where there was not consistency. The focus needs to be on — with the coach that comes in here — establishing what we want to be on offense. [Select] players and [build] a scheme and an approach and culture around that. I didn't see that consistency this year."

Paton attributed some of the offense's struggles to injuries, but he agreed the Broncos must find a way to succeed consistently on both offense and special teams.

On all sides of the ball, though, Sunday's loss was not good enough — and it led to the Broncos' decision to part ways with Hackett.

"Sunday's game was unacceptable," Paton said. "It was embarrassing for everyone associated with this team. It's nowhere close to our standard."

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