Broncos Fire Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett; Grade Within

Hopefully this is our last coach firing DURING the season. I’d argue that it’s in poor taste to fire a coach with just two weeks of the season remaining, but I guess some teams want a head start on the search for their next coach. That appears to be the case with the Denver Broncos, who have fired head coach Nathaniel Hackett after their week 16 demolition by the Rams.

For a lot of fans, this move comes several weeks too late. Hackett has been criticized since before his hiring was even official. Analysts complained that he did not have the requisite experience for the head job. Some, including myself, have speculated that Hackett was hired at least in part due to his close relationship with Aaron Rodgers. The thinking was that by hiring Hackett, Denver could entice Rodgers to go to the Packers’ brass and force a trade to the Broncos. That ultimately didn’t happen, and they swung a trade for Russell Wilson instead. Both moves are looking worse by the day, as Hackett is gone, and Russ looks cooked.

Hackett’s tenure got off to a rough start in week 1 against Seattle, Wilson’s former team. The offense, Hackett’s supposed calling card, looked awful. He also demonstrated poor clock and timeout management. That forced the team to attempt a long game-winning FG instead of potentially moving the ball closer to the end zone. Hackett hired a game management coach after another such episode, and that seemed to help. However, the offense never improved. Wilson has had the worst season of his career by far. Despite excellent play by the defense, Denver stumbled to a 4-10 record entering week 16. They were already eliminated from the playoffs, and fans wanted Hackett fired. Some in the media even called for him to be replaced.

The prevailing idea was that the team would evaluate Hackett at the end of the season and likely dismiss him. That is, they PLANNED to do that before the wheels fell off in week 16. Facing another 4-10 facing their 4th starting QB of the year, Denver imploded against the Rams. The defense, tired of trying to carry the putrid offense, seemed to quit on the team. The unit looked as if they knew the truth: had Wilson’s offense scored just 20 points per game, Denver would have been in playoff position. The result was a 51-point deluge at the hands of Baker Mayfield, who had been dumped by 2 teams already this year. Wilson, clearly in the Christmas spirit, threw the ball to LA 3 times. Backup QB Brett Rypien was shoved during a spat with the offensive line on the sideline, and DE Randy Gregory threw a punch after the 51-14 loss.

While a league-low 15.5 points per game likely doomed Hackett, this sealed his fate early. He completely lost control of the team. The players no longer seemed to respect him. Perhaps most importantly, the new owners had not been part of hiring him. They didn’t feel attached to him or see his failure as a reflection of their own failure. Finally, as I’ve complained about before, Wilson’s contract means he isn’t going anywhere. Denver is stuck with him for at least another 2 years barring a miracle. Something had to change, and it was the head coach lever that the Broncos decided to pull. This time, they won’t hire someone with a prospective player in mind. Ideally, they’ll pick someone with a strong offensive background with ample experience. I still don’t like the aspect of firing Hackett after week 16, but I would’ve recommended doing so after week 18. This team needs a reset.

Grade: A-

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