ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — First impression of Nathaniel Hackett is he’s the anti-Vic Fangio.
That doesn’t mean Hackett will be a better head coach than Fangio or that he’s a better person than Fangio in any way. It just means that when the Broncos hired their new coach, they went 180 degrees in a different direction from their former coach.
“It wasn’t on purpose,’’ Broncos general manager George Paton said in a sit-down interview Friday afternoon with 9NEWS. “I love Vic. Vic was great. Vic had relationships with everyone in the building.”
As is obvious, Paton didn’t want to compare the new coach to the old one. Friday was only about the new one.
“He walked into the room when we were interviewing him in Green Bay and it was, ‘Oh my gosh,’’’ Paton said. “You felt it. You felt the energy. You felt the leadership. And then when he started talking football he blew you away there. He has the football acumen -- whether it was offense, defense, special teams -- he was amazing.”
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Paton didn’t want to compare the two, but we will. Fangio is a defensive coach, 63, low-key and didn’t play music in practice, not even during training camp. Hackett is an offensive coach, 42, bubbling with enthusiasm and is a former hip-hop dancer. You bet music will play during practice.
Which means nothing unless Hackett can flip Fangio’s three-year record of 19-30.
Paton and his five-person head coach search committee of Darren Mougey, the Broncos’ director of player personnel; Kelly Kleine, executive director of football operations; contract/cap guru Rich Hurtado; director of player development Ray Jackson; and research specialist/chief communications officer Patrick Smyth flew to seven cities to interview 10 candidates, nine in-person, over a nine-day span. The trips spanned from Providence, R.I. (Jerod Mayo) to Los Angeles (Kevin O’Connell) with stops in Philadelphia (Jonathan Gannon), Detroit (Aaron Glenn), Green Bay (Luke Getsy and Hackett), Dallas (Dan Quinn and Kellen Moore) and Kansas City (Eric Bieniemy).
It was an exhausting pursuit, although it could have been worse. The Broncos provided the Paton Platoon with various leased private FlexJet aircrafts. Still, eight other teams had head coach vacancies and none took on such an arduous road schedule to visit so many candidates in their home cities. Some teams did their first-round of interviews via Zoom.
Paton then brought Hackett for a second interview to the eighth city of the search – Denver – on Monday.
“This will be the most important decision I probably make in my career,’’ Paton explained. “This is a huge decision for the Denver Broncos and this organization. For me to get on a Zoom and act like I can look them in the eye and say this is the guy for the Denver Broncos, I just didn’t feel comfortable with that. And so I applaud (team president) Joe Ellis and the Broncos organization for giving us the planes so we could interview 10 candidates in 11 days in eight different cities. You get a different feel when a guy walks into a room. His body language. So it was imperative that if we wanted to do it the right way, and get the right coach, it had to be in person.”
Hackett had multiple head coach interviews elsewhere the past two seasons before he won over the Broncos’ group. The first sign Paton liked him best was when Hackett’s first interview in Green Bay on Saturday morning, Jan. 15 lasted a bit more than 4 ½ hours. The others went a bit more than 3 ½ hours.
“This was the second in-person interview I had done,’’ Hackett said. “I had a Zoom the year prior (with Atlanta) and then had a couple Zooms after. But I tell ya, it was great. I think it was the way that they did it. They had you all there. The different personnel people, the different kind of staff he had there. They were included. It wasn’t just George. It allowed you to not have to talk to one person individually the whole time. It jumped around with everybody asking questions. Ray was in there. It was really cool.
“It was one of those things where it didn’t seem like an interview as people trying to find out about me and who I am and what I stand for and what I believe in. From a football aspect and a non-football aspect. So it was a great experience. It was long. But, hey, when you’re having fun I didn’t realize it had gone on almost five hours. I was a little exhausted, I didn’t know why. That explained it.”
Looking back, as the interview process commenced, Hackett’s resume may have put him at the forefront more than he was credited for – Quinn, a former head coach and current Dallas defensive coordinator, was considered the candidate to beat. But there was little question Hackett took a commanding lead after his first interview. Put it this way: Although Quinn and O’Connell were first identified by 9NEWS as the two other finalists, only Hackett got a second interview.
“I didn’t know him,’’ Paton said. “I did all the background and our group did an amazing research. But I did not know him personally. The first interview was as a group. And so it was 4 ½ hours, he met with our search committee group. I spent a little time with him after, one on one, but to say I knew Nathaniel Hackett, to bring him in and hire him as a coach, no.
“He was really impressive in that first interview, but then you interview a lot of guys and there’s some really good candidates out there. And so our process all along was to interview the 10 or 11 or whatever the number was and then bring three back. And we wanted to stick to the process but it worked out that we wanted to get Nathaniel in first. And then after the second interview we were like, ‘Wow. This guy might be the guy.’’’
Hackett and Paton finished their interview Monday night with dinner at Los Dos Potrillos, but the coaching candidate flew back to Green Bay that night without an offer. A pretty good feeling one was coming, perhaps, but no final determination was made. The next day, Paton arranged for another two-hour Zoom interview with Hackett.
“We just talked ball,’’ Paton said. “And nothing else. His vision, my vision if we’re aligned, if we can work together … And after that call I said, ‘I’m done. This is the guy.”’
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