According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, the Falcons are interested in Packers offensive coordinator — Nathaniel Hackett. In the report, Rich McKay’s connection to Hackett is a driving factor in the interest to interview him after the season — according to sources with knowledge of the situation. McKay is heavily involved in Arthur Blank’s search for a new general manager and head coach. However, McKay has already failed as a general manager — fired after the 2007 season — proving his judgment is unreliable. So what is the reason for Blank’s impromptu, enigmatic trust in his former GM?
Though the team is reportedly compiling candidates for interviews, that could be where McKay’s responsibilities cease. There is no substantial evidence that suggests McKay is anything more than a glorified consultant. Blank and McKay spoke to the media after news broke that Quinn and Dimitroff had been fired. In the joint press conference, Blank and Mckay assured all that they want to leave the foremost personnel and roster decisions to the new regime. Interestingly enough, Blank mentioned his openness to a non-traditional sequence of hiring a head coach before the general manager. All this insinuates is that Atlanta’s situation is fluid and that it will be Blank’s final decision concluding the interviews.
An oversimplified take, reports regarding the situation could be hyperbolic. The rumor comes from an NFL insider with a notable history of misreporting. Jason La Canfora has a poor reputation among media personalities, and personally, I consider La Canfora to be one of the most inconsistent national reporters in regard to how frequently his reports come to fruition. There are countless stories recounting La Canfora’s unprofessionalism through his fallacious and careless reporting style.
Eric Lambert — who covers the Chicago Bears — did phenomenal work this past summer detailing La Canfora’s — who was a beat writer on the Redskins for six years — apparent involvement in a major catfish scandal that was swept under the rug. One of the most respected magazines in US sports, Sports Illustrated, even published a story in 2019 critiquing his asinine proposal for the Browns to trade for Nate Solder. Back in 2017, La Canfora bashed the Cleveland Browns organization instead of unbiasedly reporting as a national reporter for one of the major football networks should do. Something you would never see from Jay Glazer, Ian Rapoport, or Chris Mortenson. Chirs Pokorny wrote about this instance while also highlighting La Canfora’s misleading reports regarding Anthony Lynn as a ‘virtual lock’ for the Buffalo Bills head coaching job.
The truth typically lies somewhere in the middle, and taking a simplistic approach to validating these reports is irresponsible. All things considered, Jason La Canfora is still an NFL insider at CBS, so it is worth analyzing these Nathaniel Hackett rumors but doing so tentatively is imperative.
Nathaniel Hackett is in his second year as Green Bay’s offensive coordinator and has presided over a productive offense that could break a few records by season’s end. Hackett has benefited from working with offensive guru Matt LaFleur and an MVP-caliber Aaron Rodgers, garnering these head-coaching considerations. Lafleur is the architect and play-caller of the Packer’s offense, and despite how trivial, Hackett has played a role in this highly successful offense. With LaFleur’s hands likely full from all the logistics surrounding the team and the ongoing pandemic, it’s safe to assume Hackett — freed of playcalling duties — is available to coach and work with players more deliberately.
Hackett has been an offensive coordinator with three different teams during his NFL career. He started with the Buffalo Bills from 2013-2014 then went to the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2016-2018 before serving in that role for the Packers the past two seasons. His west coast background and experience working with quarterbacks diversified the Packer’s offensive approach. It seems odd for a west coast disciple to be associated with offenses predicated on the run (Jacksonville and Green Bay), but his distinction in offensive philosophy provides an invaluable perspective in team meetings.
The flourishing Green Bay offense is not a good representation of Hackett’s ability when analyzing his fit with Atlanta. His stint in Jacksonville is a much more accurate reflection of what a Nathaniel Hackett led offense is capable of. With the Jaguars, he designed and called all the plays for the offense.
“When things were right in Jacksonville in 2017, Hackett’s group produced the fifth-best scoring offense in the NFL, using the league’s best running game to take the pressure off Bortles and elevate the skill position players. To his credit, Hackett did his best to work around Bortles’ limitations and build a functional offense, but all the important pieces of that puzzle fell apart in 2018, leading to his dismissal.”
Despite the lack of talent on offense, Jacksonville’s defense led them to the AFC Championship game in 2017, which they lost to New England. Without the dominance from the other side of the ball, the Jaguars offense began to sputter the following season. Hackett was fired by Doug Marrone, in part, due to the inability of Blake Bortles to build off the AFC Championship run.
“The Jaguars (3-8) ranked 28th in the NFL in scoring (17.9 points per game) and 22nd in total offense (346.5 yards per game). Among their problems: They often started slowly (30 points in 11 first quarters but just 10 over the past seven) and mostly been disappointing in the red zone (13 touchdowns in 25 opportunities).”
Though it was a successful one year with limited personnel support, Hackett’s offensive system was blamed for the failures in Jacksonville. There should be discussions about whether or not he is capable of designing and calling his own plays again. What cannot be disputed is Hackett’s innate ability to connect and motivate his players. His passion is most notable, “His infectious enthusiasm has even rubbed off on big stars like Rodgers, who multiple times brings up meetings between the quarterback, LaFleur, and Hackett (as well as quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy) have helped build the offense from the ground up into the juggernaut it has been through four games thus far.”
Rich McKay’s past connection and Nathaniel Hackett’s current relations with those still on staff is enough to warrant an interview. “Hackett broke into the NFL in 2006 with Tampa as a quality control coach, and his father, Paul Hackett, worked on Jon Gruden’s staff in Tampa (McKay was part of the Bucs front office that traded for Gruden from the Raiders).” But is it enough to justify an offer?
Ties to McKay, Green Bay’s prosperity, and a competent offensive mind might deceive Arthur Blank into hiring another Dan Quinn, who benefited from an absurdly talented Seattle defense.
In summary, Nathaniel Hackett would have stayed in Jacksonville if he was an ascending talent. Instead, he was fired midseason and hired to work in a supplemental role in the Packers offense. There is no reason to believe that he is capable of piecing together a successful offense from scratch. That does not mean he is incapable of acquiring creative football minds to help him build the offense. He is respected by all of his former players and received high praise from LaFleur on his role within Green Bay. I just think that if Blank chooses to go with an offensive-minded head coach, it should be someone with a more modern perspective of offenses like Lafleur, McVay, and Shanahan.
Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire