The Green Bay Packers could only have so much success under Matt LaFleur’s coaching regime before others started trying to hire away key assistants.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the Atlanta Falcons conducted a virtual interview with Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett on Thursday for their head-coaching vacancy. Hackett had said Wednesday he was “definitely ready” for the opportunity to become a head coach but clarified he and the rest of the Packers’ coaches were focused on preparing for their divisional-round playoff game next weekend.
“If those things happen for people, we’ll be so excited for anybody or everybody, but right now that’s for after the season,” Hackett told reporters Wednesday when asked about the possibility of Packers assistants getting outside job interest. “We’re just in the mindset (that) we just want to get ready for the playoffs. We want to rest ourselves and reflect.”
Recently, #Packers QB Aaron Rodgers praised Nathaniel Hackett for the job he’s done and the joy he brings Rodgers. "Hack has been a really important part of our culture change and a part of our success on offense. I love him. Hope he doesn’t go anywhere. Unless I do.” https://t.co/TRztxcDxWg
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 7, 2021
Hackett was one of the first assistants LaFleur hired in 2019 and has helped renovate the Packers into the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense. Under his offensive leadership, the Packers have gotten consecutive 1,000-yard seasons out of running back Aaron Jones and an MVP-caliber year from veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers — which has also helped Davante Adams vault into the conversations for the league’s top wide receiver.
“I think it’s something that you’re thinking about the minute you get into this profession,” Hackett said in response to a question from Packers insider Jason Wilde about his interests in becoming an NFL head coach.
The Packers are slated to host their first playoff game on either Jan. 16 or 17 at a time that will be determined once all this weekend’s wild-card games are played.
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Hackett’s Logical Next Step Would be HC
Prior to his arrival in Green Bay, Hackett had spent much of his coaching career under recently-fired Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone, who hired him as an offensive assistant at Syracuse in 2010 and brought him with him to Buffalo when the Bills hired Marrone as their head coach in 2013.
As the Bills’ offensive coordinator, Hackett found middling success in his first season with the league’s No. 2 rushing offense (144.2 yards per game) and No. 28 passing offense (193.9 ypg). He managed to improve the pass (225.9 ypg) the following season with a quarterback change, but it came at the expense of the run game (92.6 ypg).
When Marrone triggered the opt-out clause in his contract following the Bills’ change of ownership in 2014 and moved along to Jacksonville, Hackett again joined him and worked as the Jaguars’ quarterbacks coach (2015-16) and offensive coordinator (2016-18). His work with Leonard Fournette in 2017 helped the Jaguars become the league’s top rushing offense and reach as far as the AFC championship game.
Hackett was fired a year later, however, when the success could not be replicated during the 2018 season, setting him up to join LaFleur’s staff in 2019.
Will Hackett Get Other Interview Requests?
As Rapoport noted, Hackett’s interview with the Falcons is his first for a head-coaching position during the new hiring cycle, but that doesn’t mean he won’t get other requests as the next month or so goes on — especially if the Packers offense shines in the playoffs.
The Jaguars are also looking for a new head coach after firing Hackett’s old boss, Marrone, earlier this week. While Hackett could be ruled out for ties to the old regime, he also had credible experience working with a first-round quarterback in Rodgers, which could make him valuable for developing whichever quarterback Jacksonville selects with the No. 1 overall pick this year — presumably Clemson star Trevor Lawrence.
The other teams with head-coaching openings are the New York Jets, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and Los Angeles Chargers. The Jets have the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft, while the Chargers have 2020 first-round quarterback Justin Herbert showing early signs of greatness for their offense. Meanwhile, the Texans have Deshaun Watson installed as their franchise quarterback.