ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Shortly after his first win as head coach of the Denver Broncos, Nathaniel Hackett was too busy evaluating another game-management debacle to celebrate.
Hackett quickly took action that led him to begin the process of hiring highly regarded NFL coach Jerry Rosburg to the Broncos staff as senior assistant, 9NEWS has learned. Rosburg had been with the Broncos all week, observing practices and talking with personnel while his specific role and contract were being finalized. The hiring was finalized late Friday afternoon in time for Rosburg to assist Hackett for the game Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers at Empower Field at Mile High.
9NEWS had spotted an unfamiliar person on the coaches’ sidelines during practices the last week, then worked to confirm that Rosberg had been added to Hackett’s staff. The hire will allow Hackett to be a more efficient head coach and play-caller with a strong, experienced presence to assist with game management not only on gameday but throughout the week.
With one of the NFL’s youngest coaching staffs and a trio of coordinators essentially in their first year supporting a first-time head coach, a veteran coach like Rosburg should have an immediate impact with gameday decision-making.
In a profession where most NFL coaches become defensive to criticism and would rather have a tooth pulled than admit a mistake, Hackett’s willingness to not only publicly demonstrate accountability but make a significant in-season adjustment is commendable.
One of the most respected assistant coaches in recent NFL history, the 66-year old Rosburg had been a longtime special teams coordinator, associate head coach and game-day czar to Baltimore Ravens’ coach Jim Harbaugh during the team’s highly successful run from 2008 until his retirement following the 2018 season. In recognition of his impact with the Ravens, Rosburg was given a ceremonial retirement press conference by the organization, which is extremely rare for an assistant coach.
With the Broncos, Rosburg will provide a veteran presence to one of the league’s least experienced coaching staffs. Rosburg will be in the coaches’ box during games – starting Sunday night when the Broncos meet the 49ers – wearing a headset that enables him to communicate directly with Hackett regarding game-day decisions and operations. He will also be part of game management meetings and situational research throughout the week.
Credit Hackett for not being like so many NFL coaches and letting stubborn pride get in the way of well-reasoned, self-evaluation. Nathaniel Hackett got in the crosshairs of a national firestorm when in his first game as head coach and his team trailing the Seattle Seahawks, 17-16, before a primetime Monday night audience on Sept. 12, he opted for an improbable 64-yard field goal attempt (the longest field goal in the 20-year history of Lumen Field was 56 yards by the Cowboys’ Dan Bailey in 2014) rather than have his new star quarterback Russell Wilson try to convert a fourth-and-5 from the Seattle 46-yard line with about a minute remaining and all three timeouts available.
When Brandon McManus’ lengthy field goal attempt barely missed and the Broncos lost, Hackett’s decision was widely discussed and criticized by NFL pundits and fans. Hackett wisely admitted at his day-after-game press conference that if he had to do it over again he would have gone for it on fourth down while explaining the issue was not indecision—He had a plan, but in hindsight, the process to arrive at that plan needed to be improved.
His decision-making and game-management ability took another hit, however, in week 2 when during a 16-9 win Sunday against Houston. The Broncos had to burn three, second NFL-half timeouts – once because the team had too many men on the field and had a returner run off the field to avoid a penalty - and also had an apparent 54-yard field goal by McManus nullified by a delay-of-game penalty.
Besides the operational miscues, the Broncos committed a team-record 25 penalties through two games and failed to score a touchdown in five combined goal-to-go possessions – an NFL first since at least the 2000 season.
Capping the series of missteps was the sold-out Broncos crowd mockingly counting down the play-clock as it got inside 10 seconds while Wilson and the offense were on the field during a fourth quarter possession against the Texans.
Shortly after the game, Hackett reached out to general manager George Paton with the request of hiring a veteran coach who was seasoned in game-day management. Hackett was familiar with Rosburg through NFL coaching circles and talked on the phone about what a role could potentially look like.
Paton approached Broncos owner and CEO Greg Penner, who showed he’s all in by approving the unique request to add such an experienced, highly regarded coach even though it’s three weeks into the regular season.
Amid the criticism, Hackett has said all the right things during his daily press conferences, showing honest accountability and not getting defensive amid a national firestorm.
“It’s something we’ve jumped into and wanted to make sure we can get better at that,’’ Hackett said Wednesday. “And it starts with me. I’m trying to do every single thing I can to put myself in better position to make quicker, faster, more efficient decisions. George, (assistant GM Darren Mougey), all those guys have been absolutely spectacular in helping me through that process. That is something that is new for me. And I think we’re going to have some good answers as we move forward.’’
It's now known Rosburg has been brought in to become part of the solution. An All-American linebacker at North Dakota State University, Rosburg started his coaching career in 1979 as assistant head coach for Fargo Shanley (ND) High School, then began a 20-season run in the college ranks with Northern Michigan in 1981. After two seasons with Notre Dame as cornerbacks/special teams coach in 1999-2000, Rosburg began his 20-year run as special teams coordinator with the Cleveland Browns in 2001.
In 2009, Harbaugh promoted Rosburg to assistant head coach, a position he held along with the special teams coordinator role he held for 10 seasons. The Ravens won Super Bowl 47 in the 2012 season and reached the postseason in seven of Rosburg’s 11 seasons with the team.
Rosburg and his wife Sherry have three children, all of whom played college sports – Megan as a volleyball captain at American University, Jerad as a hockey player at Michigan State and Margaret as a volleyball player at St. Louis University. He retired to spend more time with his family, and after three seasons out of the league, he is back in with a significant role with the Broncos.
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