Broncos fire Hackett after 4-11 start to season
Dec 26, 2022
Jeff LegwoldESPN Senior Writer
- Covered Broncos for nine years for Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News
- Previously covered Steelers, Bills and Titans
- Member of Pro Football Hall of Fame Board
of Selectors since 1999
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos fired first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett on Monday.
Hackett’s dismissal puts an abrupt end to the shortest tenure of any noninterim head coach in franchise history. The new owners of the Broncos, the Walton-Penner Group, consisting of Walmart heir Rob Walton, Carrie Walton Penner, and Greg Penner, quickly lost patience with a team that boasted one of the league’s most impressive defenses, but couldn’t score.
“Following extensive conversations with [general manager] George [Paton] and our ownership group, we determined a new direction would ultimately be in the best interest of the Broncos,” Penner said in a statement. “This decision was made out of respect for all involved and allows us immediately to begin the search for a head coach.
” Moving forward, we will evaluate every aspect of football operations and make any necessary changes to restore the franchise’s winning tradition. “
Penner said that Paton will be helping with the coaching search. A news conference has been scheduled for Tuesday at noon ET.
Former Baltimore Ravens assistant coach Jerry Rosburg, who Denver hired in September to aid in-game management decisions, has been named the team’s interim head coach for the remainder of this season.
The Broncos fired Dwayne Stuckes, special teams coordinator, and Butch Barry, offensive line coach, on Monday. Mike Mallory (and Ben Steele) took over these roles.
At one point this season, there was the No. The No. 1 scoring defense and the No. 32 scoring offense. The Broncos also missed the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year, the longest playoff drought since the franchise’s earliest years, when it missed the playoffs between 1960 and 1976. This is a far cry from Pat Bowlen’s three-decade tenure as owner when the Broncos won seven Super Bowls and lost only one. This season is also the fifth time the Broncos have averaged fewer than 20 points per game over the past seven years. Josh McDaniels was the team’s noninterim head coaches until Hackett was fired. He was fired in 2010 with four games remaining in his second season on job. He was fired when the Broncos were at 3-9.
Hackett, 42, was hired in January as the franchise’s 18th head coach after serving three seasons as the Green Bay Packers‘ offensive coordinator under Matt LaFleur. Paton described Hackett as a “dynamic leader, coach, and innovator who impressed us from the beginning of the process.” “
Then-Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell and Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn were also finalists for the role. O’Connell was later hired by the Minnesota Vikings, whose resurgent offense has led them to a 12-3 start. Shortly after Hackett’s hire, the Broncos traded five draft picks, including two first-rounders and two second-rounders, as well as three players to the Seattle Seahawks to acquire quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson was signed to a five-year, $245 million contract extension just before the start of the season. But the Broncos’ offseason was quickly overshadowed by Hackett’s questionable in-game decisions.
In Week 1, his call to have kicker Brandon McManus attempt a 64-yard field goal instead of having Wilson attempt to convert a fourth-and-5 in the closing minute of a 17-16 loss to Seattle proved controversial. Hackett stated the day after the loss that he thought Hackett was wrong. “One of those things, when you look back, you can say, “Of course, we should have gone for it; we missed field goal.” But in that situation we had a plan, we knew 46 was the mark. “
Game management problems continued over the following weeks — fans even counted down how many minutes were left before some home games ended — which led Rosburg to be hired. Hackett, Wilson, and the offense continued to be at odds. Hackett repeatedly stressed that he wanted to “build this thing around [Wilson]” as Wilson was “comfortable with” the offense, even though Wilson repeatedly stated that he was comfortable doing “a lot of different things”. “
At 15.5 points per game, the Broncos are at their lowest point total at this point in a season since 1966.
Injuries to front-line players such as left tackle Garett Bolles, running back Javonte Williams, wide receiver Tim Patrick and outside linebacker Randy Gregory certainly didn’t help matters. As the season progressed, less was said about Hackett’s willingness to think outside of the box in his teaching methods. Instead, more was written about why the Broncos offense was so bad. Five of the Broncos’ first six losses, and eight total, were one-score games. On Sunday, the Rams scored on eight of their nine possessions. Additionally, backup quarterback Brett Rypien and guard Dalton Risner exchanged words on the sideline after a sequence in the third quarter when Wilson was sacked on back-to-back plays.
Gregory was pulled from the game twice by Hackett, once in the first half when he was flagged after he threw his helmet after a Rams touchdown, and later when he was flagged for a late hit on Los Angeles quarterback Baker Mayfield. Hackett stated, “After the second one, we took he out — that’s unacceptable.”
As the teams crowded the middle of the field on their way to their locker rooms after the game, Gregory and Rams guard Oday Aboushi exchanged words — with helmets on — and Gregory punched Aboushi in the helmet. Before they could be separated, Aboushi responded with another punch. Both Gregory and Aboushi were suspended one game by the NFL on Monday. Both will be appealing.
With the wealthiest ownership group in the NFL as well as a fan base passionate enough, even now, to have given the Broncos a home sellout streak that dates back to 1970, the Broncos’ head-coaching role will be an attractive job.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.