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Nathaniel Hackett’s coaching history is littered with bad quarterbacks

Before coaching Aaron Rodgers this season, Kyle Orton might be the best QB Hackett has ever had under his tutelage.

Buffalo Bills v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Nathaniel Hackett has been an offensive coordinator in the NFL for parts of five different seasons, following two years as a coordinator at a power-five college football program. Prior to that, his first four years of NFL experience came as an offensive quality control coach for a pair of teams.

Now, Hackett is the next offensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers, despite just one season in that position with good numbers for his offense. However, a look back at his history shows that he has had very little to work with at the quarterback position at his previous stops.

On Monday evening, Michael Cohen of The Athletic tweeted the list of QBs that Hackett has worked with as a coordinator over his NFL career. It’s a brutal list, and it prompting us at APC to take a closer look at those individuals and their numbers with Hackett in charge. We’ll also take a peek at the signal-callers at the NFL level when Hackett was a QC coach for fun.

Let’s start in Tampa Bay, where Hackett got his first job as a quality control coach under Jon Gruden. He was there for two seasons, 2006 and 2007, and the Buccaneers went 4-12 and 9-7 in those years respectively. Hackett of course was not responsible for coaching quarterbacks or leading an offense at that time, but it’s where he cut his teeth as an NFL assistant and he would have had at least some level of involvement with these players.

The QB situation for the 2006 Bucs was a complete mess; Bruce Gradkowski started 11 games, with three starts for Chris Simms and two for Tim Rattay. The trio combined to complete just 55.3% of their passes for 2,994 yards (just 5.6 yards per attempt), 14 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. However, Gruden helped convince Jeff Garcia to come to Tampa for the 2007 season and signed Luke McCown as his backup. That pairing was a massive improvement, combining for 64.5% completions, 3,579 yards (7.4 YPA), 18 touchdowns, and just seven picks.

After that season, Hackett moved on to a QC position with Dick Jauron’s Buffalo Bills for two years, the second of which saw former Packers quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt calling plays as the OC. 2008 saw Trent Edwards start 14 games with JP Losman getting a pair of starts. The team went 7-9 as the Bills’ offense primarily ran through running backs Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson. Edwards was at least passable, with 7.2 yards per attempt and an 11-10 TD-INT ratio; Losman was a mess, however, with two scores to give picks and just 5.6 YPA.

Ryan Fitzpatrick arrived from Cincinnati the following season, but he and Edwards split time as the starter (with one start thrown in for former Packers backup Brian Brohm). This was hardly Fitzmagic, however; his 56% completion rate and 6.3 YPA led to a passer rating of just 69.7. Edwards was better, but not by much as his rating was just four points higher.

In 2010, Hackett moved on to Syracuse University, remaining in upstate New York and taking a job as quarterbacks and tight ends coach under Doug Marrone — with whom he would remain until being fired in November. After one year in that position, Hackett was promoted to offensive coordinator, serving in that capacity for the Orange the next two seasons before he and Marrone left for Buffalo.

Syracuse had a winning record in two of Hackett’s three seasons there, all of which saw Ryan Nassib serve as the team’s starting quarterback. 2010 was Nassib’s sophomore year, and he would eventually be a fourth-round draft pick by the New York Giants in 2013. Here are Nassib’s stats in those three years with Hackett coaching him:

  • 2010: 202-358 (56.4%), 2,334 yards (6.5 YPA), 19 TDs, 8 INTs
  • 2011: 259-415 (62.4%), 2,685 yards (6.5 YPA), 22 TDs, 9 INTs
  • 2012: 294-471 (62.4%), 3,749 yards (8.0 YPA), 26 TDs, 10 INTs

Those numbers show a significant improvement from year to year — first bumping up completion percentage by a great deal from year one as a starter to year two, then increasing yards per attempt going to year three. Nassib never started an NFL game, but he would eventually land a backup job in Jacksonville (under Marrone and Hackett) in 2017.

In 2013, Marrone took the head coaching job with the Bills, bringing Hackett along with him as OC. Interestingly, he also hired Mike Pettine as his defensive coordinator, giving the Bills the same pair of coordinators that the Packers will have in 2019. However, Hackett unfortunately had a brutal set of quarterbacks to work with.

That year, the Bills drafted EJ Manuel 16th overall, and he was the team’s opening day starter. Manuel struggled mightily, as rookie QBs tend to do, completing about 59% of his passes for 6.4 yards per attempt, 11 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. He also missed six games, forcing Thaddeus Lewis to start five contests and Jeff Tuel (remember him?) the other. The results weren’t great; Buffalo’s passing game ranked 29th in net yards per attempt, and only a terrific running game with Jackson and C.J. Spiller kept them from being a truly abysmal offense.

2014 was an improvement, however, thanks to the arrival of Kyle Orton, who might be the best quarterback Hackett has ever had to this point in his career as a coordinator. His 64.2% completion rate is the high mark for a Hackett quarterback, and his 6.8 YPA is third for any NFL quarterback in his charge. Manuel started four unimpressive games, but Buffalo’s running game tanked as Spiller fell out of favor.

Then, in 2015, Marrone was fired, landing in Jacksonville as the assistant head coach and offensive line coach for Gus Bradley. He again brought Hackett with him as the quarterbacks coach where he worked with Blake Bortles for nearly four years. The first year-plus, Hackett served as quarterbacks coach before Bradley was fired midway through 2016 and Marrone was installed as interim head coach. At that time, Hackett got the keys to the offense as the coordinator, a position he held until Marrone fired him in November 2018.

Here’s a look at Bortles’ four seasons under Hackett:

  • 2015: 355-606 (58.6%), 4,428 yards (7.3 YPA), 35 TDs, 18 INTs
  • 2016: 368-625 (58.9%), 3,905 yards (6.2 YPA), 23 TDs, 16 INTs
  • 2017: 315-523 (60.2%), 3,687 yards (7.0 YPA), 21 TDs, 13 INTs
  • 2018: 243-303 (60.3%), 2,718 yards (6.7 YPA), 13 TDs, 11 INTs

Bortles’ big numbers in 2015 came with Greg Olson as offensive coordinator, and his YPA was solid, particularly when considering that his completion percentage was under 59%. His yards per completion was an impressive 12.5, largely due to huge seasons from Allen Robinson (17.5 yards per reception) and Allen Hurns (16.1). However, he remained turnover-prone, leading the NFL in interceptions as well as taking the most sacks of any NFL quarterback.

An argument can certainly be made that Bortles’ best season was in 2017, when he increased his completion rate (at least a bit), cut down on interceptions somewhat. He very much became a game manager, allowing the running game and defense to dominate instead. Hackett’s playcalls leaned heavily on a multi-faced rushing attack, which finished #1 in the NFL in yards and ninth in yards per attempt. It is also worth noting that Robinson tore his ACL in week one, robbing Jacksonville of their top receiving option after just one reception for 17 yards.

To expand on Cohen’s list, here’s the complete list of quarterbacks who have started games for Hackett during his tenure as a coordinator, QBs coach, or offensive quality control coach, with number of starts, team, and the seasons that those starts took place. The list is in chronological order, and should give some perspective on the dearth of quality players Hackett has had to work with.

  • Bruce Gradkowski — 11 (Buccaneers, 2006)
  • Chris Simms — 3 (Buccaneers, 2006)
  • Tim Rattay — 2 (Buccaneers, 2006)
  • Jeff Garcia — 13 (Buccaneers, 2007)
  • Luke McCown — 3 (Buccaneers, 2007)
  • Trent Edwards — 21 (Bills, 2008-09)
  • JP Losman — 2 (Bills, 2008)
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick — 8 (Bills, 2009)
  • Brian Brohm — 1 (Bills, 2009)
  • Ryan Nassib — 39 (Syracuse, 2010-12)
  • EJ Manuel — 14 (Bills, 2013-14)
  • Thaddeus Lewis — 5 (Bills, 2013)
  • Jeff Tuel — 1 (Bills, 2013)
  • Kyle Orton — 12 (Bills, 2014)
  • Blake Bortles — 59 (Jaguars, 2015-18)