With the Green Bay Packers’ hot start to 2020, all eyes have been on two key members of the team: quarterback Aaron Rodgers and head coach Matt LaFleur.
That’s obviously for good reason: LaFleur has brought the Packers offense into modern times and Rodgers has been the motor making everything go. Both men are of course deserving every ounce of praise being thrown their way.
There is also another individual who deserves some props for his contribution to the Packers’ explosive offense and that is offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.
Since LaFleur is the one calling the plays, people tend to miss on what Hackett has brought to the organization and the offense specifically. Just because the offensive coordinator isn’t carrying the playsheet does not mean he is making any smaller of a contribution to the success of the team.
Maybe he’s being dismissed by some because he was unceremoniously sacked in Jacksonville after Blake Bortles turned into, well, Blake Bortles a year after the Jaguars came oh-so-close to the Super Bowl but make no mistake about it, Hackett can coach.
Jacksonville’s offense actually got even worse after Hackett was dismissed 11 games into the 2018 season, dropping to a measly average of 9.6 points per game while they averaged 17.9 points per game in the first 11 contests. It’s also worth noting Hackett called the plays in Jacksonville despite head coach Doug Marrone’s offensive pedigree. The fact that Hackett got so close to a Super Bowl with Bortles is further testament to his coaching acumen. Hackett employed a run-heavy attack in Jacksonville, likely to keep Bortles hidden and minimize the opportunity for the quarterback to make crippling mistakes.
When LaFleur started building his staff in Green Bay and tapped Hackett as offensive coordinator, the former Jaguar coach had to have felt like he was moving on up in a big way. He was going from coaching Bortles to arguably the most gifted passer in the history of football in Rodgers. It’s like upgrading the vehicle in your garage from a Plymouth Horizon to a Porsche.
Freed of the playcalling duties in Green Bay, Hackett was free to coach and work with players and from the moment he was introduced it was clear that Hackett loved football. 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.
With LaFleur’s hands likely full with all the logistics surrounding the team and the ongoing pandemic, it’s safe to assume Hackett has had plenty of time to put his fingerprints on the Packers’ offensive system.
Know how Hackett had that run-heavy approach in Jacksonville? Well, the Packers obviously aren’t running that same way because they have a franchise quarterback they want to showcase instead of bury, but Aaron Jones’ emergence as a top playmaker alongside that of Jamaal Williams didn’t happen by accident. Hackett developed Leonard Fournette into a force to be reckoned with in Jacksonville too.
Off the field, he oozes enthusiasm and enthusiasm. You can watch any of his Zoom sessions with the media and that comes through in spades. Remember those “yeet” shirts and players chanting “yeet” in the locker room last year? Hackett had a big role in that. Not only does it break the tension that inevitably permeates the locker room, but it also shows he can relate to the younger players and is in tune with their lingo.
Between that and the on-field success, it’s fair to at least wonder how long Hackett will be in Green Bay should the offense’s success continue for the duration of the season. Plucking offensive coordinators off high performing coaching staffs is a certainty every year and it’s not farfetched to think Hackett could be at the top of the list of many teams. He checks all the boxes including having play calling experience and would fit the trend of hiring younger offensive minds unto head coaching jobs.
Could Hackett represent the first branch to sprout on the LaFleur coaching tree? It might be too soon to tell, but the man deserves more credit than he is getting and that credit may come in the form of head coaching interviews in February.
Until then, here’s hoping the LaFleur/Rodgers/Hackett triumvirate continues to light up scoreboards the rest of the season.
If we’re lucky, all of Wisconsin will be yelling “Yeet!” when the Packers make a second trip to Tampa this year and bring home their fifth Lombardi trophy.