ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the wake of the Broncos organization's decision to part ways with head coach Nathaniel Hackett, players have not viewed the move as a sole judgment of one man's work.
While Hackett was ultimately responsible for the team's performance, several players he led, including some of its biggest stars, said Wednesday that they also feel accountable for a disappointing 2022 season.
"I'm obviously devastated about Coach Hackett because I think he's an amazing man, amazing teacher, amazing father — just [from] watching him with his kids — and what he's been able to do and how he's taught the game for us," Russell Wilson said. "This season has been a season we never thought was going to happen the way it did. … It's been a crazy season — tons of injuries, tons of everything else — but the reality is that I wish I could have played better for him, too. I wish I could have played at the standard that I've played — that I've always played at and know how to play at. But what I do know is he's resilient, he's going to be a tremendous coach, like I said, and I love him to death and everybody misses him, for sure."
Safety Justin Simmons, who will soon play for a fifth head coach in Jerry Rosburg on an interim basis, has experienced the feeling before.
"Obviously it's tough, it's difficult," Simmons said. "You build relationships with coaches and families, and Coach 'Hack' was one of the better people that I've been around. So it's always difficult. This game is always going to be about winning. For me, I'm just disappointed in like us as players kind of not getting that job done. That's what I think about. It's tough all the way around.
"... [T]he fact of the matter is we've got to go out there and find ways to win football games. Speaking defensively, obviously, last game wasn't even close to the standard that we hold ourselves to."
For inside linebacker Alex Singleton, the Broncos' shortcomings must fall at least in part on the players because of faults in executing game plans.
"Players play, and when we don't execute and things don't go right and stuff like that happens, it sucks," Singleton said. "I loved Hackett, love everything about Hackett — that's the first thing I texted him. But we've still got two games to play, so [we have to] stay the course ... and do our job."
In searching for the next head coach, Broncos Owner & CEO Greg Penner said Tuesday that they'll be looking for a leader who can instill "accountability and discipline" and "an identity on offense." And yet, the players know that for whomever that person is, it'll be on them to ensure that the coach is successful.
"We've got to be better, and it starts with me," Wilson said. "I'm looking forward to turning this thing around and making it special. And it's going to make the hard days — the dark days, which we're in some of those right now — that's going to make it that much more worthwhile."
During Sunday's loss, the Broncos also saw some of their players embroiled in off-field disputes. Guard Dalton Risner was seen pushing quarterback Brett Rypien, and outside linebacker Randy Gregory was involved in a scuffle after the game with an opposing player.
"I definitely regret it," Gregory said. "I've had a lot go on in my journey, in this career, and [that was] definitely not one of my bright spots. So, it was more of a back-and-forth, normal back-and-forth as you have throughout the game, and I took the frustration a little bit too far. I let my emotions kind of lead me, and I didn't really think of the ramifications that came with my actions, so I've got to do better about that."
Risner also took accountability for his actions, as he discussed after Wednesday's practice.
"On Sunday, there's a lot of frustration, losing 51-14, and we're both very competitive guys," Risner said. "… We want to win out there. We're frustrated with what's going on, emotions are running high, and I should not have pushed my boy. I shouldn't have done that. I've got to put that on myself. I can't let frustration and emotions get to me. But at the end of the day, that's one of my best friends, man. … We both care a lot about winning, and we're both frustrated. We made up right after, but that just hasn't been the story that's been put out there, and that's fine. We've been boys since, got over it right away and have been moving forward — we're ready to beat the Chiefs."