After Mike LaFleur and the team “parted ways” a couple of weeks ago, Jets coach Robert Saleh interviewed more than 15 candidates for their vacant offensive coordinator position.
But there was one name Saleh kept returning to during his search: former Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett.
“Went to college, went to different schemes and talked to different people,” Saleh said. “A lot of really good football coaches out there.
“But when it came back to a certain checklist I was trying to go through, just checking boxes on what we were looking for in regards to this next offensive coordinator, I just kept circling back to him. He checks every box that we are looking for.
“Really excited about this and to get Nathaniel here.”
Unlike LaFleur, Hackett brings a wealth of experience to the Jets as he has overseen a number of different offenses during his 20-year coaching career. Hackett has worked in the NFL since 2006, outside of an assistant coaching stint at Syracuse (2010-12).
After he was an offensive coordinator with the Bills from 2013-14, Saleh and Hackett worked together on the Jaguars staff from 2015-16 when Doug Marrone was the head coach. Saleh was the Jaguars’ linebackers coach and Hackett was the QB coach. After Saleh left Jacksonville to become San Francisco’s defensive coordinator in 2017, Hackett remained on Marrone’s staff as the Jaguars offensive coordinator from 2016-18.
Marrone fired Hackett in 2018, a year after the Jaguars made the AFC Championship game. He then moved on to Green Bay, where he was the offensive coordinator under coach Matt LaFleur. The Packers with Hackett and superstar QB Aaron Rodgers became the highest-scoring offense during the 2020 season.
While Hackett was the offensive coordinator, LaFleur was the primary play caller and he helped with game-planning and other aspects of the offense on a weekly basis. Outside of his time in Green Bay, Hackett’s offenses around the league haven’t generated a ton of success. The offensive DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) during his time as offensive coordinator with the Bills and Jaguars from 2013-14 and 2016-18 was 25th, 27th, 15th and 30th.
Saleh wasn’t too concerned with Hackett’s lack of success in other stops outside of Green Bay.
“His ability to connect with his players and teach and get people on the same page and the innovation in which he goes about things,” Saleh said. “His style of coaching, the philosophy that he has in regards to scheme.
“I could argue on the flip side on the places he’s been, players had their best years with him. He’s a fantastic football coach and respected around this league and we are happy we were able to get him.”
Hackett parlayed his success in Green Bay into becoming the head coach in Denver last season. After the Broncos acquired veteran quarterback Russell Wilson from the Seahawks, many thought the team would be a contender in a loaded AFC West division. However, that was far from the case.
Denver (5-12) finished last in the AFC West and Hackett was fired on Dec. 26 following the team’s 51-14 embarrassing national television loss to the Rams on Christmas Day. While he had a ton of success with Rodgers in Green Bay, Wilson had the worst season of his career with the Broncos and Hackett. Wilson passed for 3,524 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He completed a career-worst 60.5% of his passes. The Broncos also ranked 32nd in scoring and 21st in total yards.
“You gotta own it, it’s part of the resume,” Saleh said. “You got to have the discipline to look past recency bias. You gotta be able to look past whatever anyone would call Denver.
“The fact of the matter is, he got to Denver and he got that opportunity because of his life’s work as an offensive coordinator and all the different things he has done in this league and how much respect he has garnered in this league in all his different spots and all the players he has developed in his career and the people he has worked with.
“I get the sentiment from all that stuff, but you just have to be able to have the discipline to understand it was a celebrated hire when he got hired at Denver and it just didn’t work out. Sometimes, things happen that way.”
Hackett will look to turn around a Jets offense that was mediocre for the better part of the 2022 season. Gang Green’s defense (311.1) was fourth in yards and points allowed (18.6), while its offense was 25th in total yards (318.2) and 29th (17.4) in points per game.
While the Jets are expected to retain former No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson, who started most of the season before being benched several times, they will be in the market for a veteran quarterback. In his second year in the league, Wilson passed for 1,688 yards, six touchdowns and seven interceptions in nine games.
Names such as Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo and Rodgers have been rumored to the Jets.
Hackett and Rodgers have maintained a great relationship even after he left Green Bay. Rodgers has $59.465 million guaranteed if he plays in 2023, part of a three-year, $150 million contract extension he signed last March. The contract carries a salary-cap charge of $31.6 million for next season, so it would likely need to be reworked if Rodgers plays for the Packers or any other team.
Before the Jets discuss Rodgers, he has to decide whether he wants to continue playing.
“We are committed to finding a veteran,” Saleh said. “We didn’t get the names, I doubt he has even studied those guys yet, which he’s going to start next week. We didn’t get into specifics on names … We do plan on bringing in a veteran quarterback if we can. We do want to continue working with Zach and continue to develop him.”
ANOTHER HIRE FOR GANG GREEN
Hackett wasn’t the only assistant coach the team announced on Thursday.
The Jets also announced the addition of offensive line coach/run game coordinator Keith Carter.
Carter replaces John Benton, who was fired after the conclusion of the season.
The Titans fired Carter as their offensive line coach on Jan. 9, a day after the end of the regular season in which they finished 7-10 and out of the playoffs for the first time since 2018. Carter was with Tennessee for five seasons as helped lead an offensive line that finished in the top six in red zone offense the last four seasons. He oversaw a rushing offense that produced a top-five rushing attack in three of his last four seasons.
“Was shocked he got let go at Tennessee,” Saleh said. “Philosophical differences, but really excited about Keith. They were continuing their style at Tennessee even with Derrick Henry out, they were still spitting out top-10 run games.
“They’ve been very effective in the red zone, running the football, getting the ball past the goal line, all that good stuff. Hard nose, hard-charging football coach that we are really excited to get.
“This combination … feel like we hit a home run and very excited about them and their ability to work together and get us in the direction that we are hoping we can go.”