GREEN BAY – There’s a definite uptick in energy each time Nathaniel Hackett walks into a room.
Packers assistant offensive line coach Luke Butkus felt it on Hackett’s offensive coaching staff with Jacksonville back in 2015, while Head Coach Matt LaFleur was drawn to it when he and Hackett would interview prospects together each year at the NFL Scouting Combine.
So it stands to reason the 39-year-old Hackett was all smiles when he enthusiastically stepped to the lectern inside the Lambeau Field media auditorium Monday to officially be introduced as the Packers’ new offensive coordinator.
“He’s infectious – high energy, high motor and wants to make it fun,” said Butkus, who’s entering his first season with the Packers. “It’s great because too many times in this profession it can be dull and monotonous, but he’s always keeping you on your toes. Just a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm.”
As the son of one of the innovators of the West Coast offense, Hackett developed a passion for football at a young age. His father, Paul, won a Super Bowl ring as an assistant coach on Bill Walsh’s 49ers staff. A mentor to former Packers coach Mike McCarthy and Jon Gruden, Hackett went on to serve as the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh and USC.
Nathaniel broke into the coaching ranks in 2003 as an assistant linebackers coach at his alma mater, UC-Davis. In 2011, he became Syracuse’s offensive coordinator at only 32 years old before holding the same position with the Buffalo Bills, and most recently, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
As the Jaguars’ offensive play-caller in 2017, Hackett oversaw the NFL’s top-ranked rushing offense. Rushing behind rookie first-round pick Leonard Fournette, the Jaguars came within inches of the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance.
Through the highs and the lows, Hackett has turned to his father for advice in his coaching journey and Paul has been with Nathaniel every step of the way.
“He’s taught me how to coach and go out on the field and how to reach players,” Hackett said. “When times are hard, he picks me up. When things are going great, he brings me back down. I think he’s just one of those guys who knows never get too high, never get too low. And his experiences are just amazing. He’s probably forgotten more football than I know.”
It was during Hackett’s time as an NFL offensive coordinator he developed a handshake partnership with LaFleur to interview NFL quarterback prospects together in Indianapolis each winter.
The two young coaches, connected through several mutual friends, had noticed a collection of tight ends coaches who would interview prospects together rather than scrambling to get individual one-on-ones with players.
So LaFleur and Hackett began teaming up to vet players for hours, alternating questions and gathering as much information as possible in their evaluations. Over the years, the two became well-acquainted through the process.
After LaFleur was hired as the Packers’ 15th head coach in January, Hackett was one of the top names on his list of potential offensive coordinators. Yet, he had to make sure it was the right fit.
“Just because I had a relationship with him, you don’t really know until you work with somebody,” LaFleur said. “I absolutely put him through the ringer on the interview and I thought he did a great job. I think he’s going to add a lot of value to us.”
In partnership with quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy, LaFleur and Hackett already have started assembling the playbook they believe will get the Packers’ offense back to an elite level.
With LaFleur calling plays in Green Bay, Hackett relishes the opportunity to build the weekly game plan and provide suggestions for how to attack upcoming opponents.
There undoubtedly will be changes in a few areas of emphasis in the offense, but Hackett still believes the scheme is tailored for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to make a smooth transition.
“He’s one of those guys we can do pretty much a lot of everything,” Hackett said. “So I think a lot of it is going to carry over. I think some of the language will be different, but it will be a lot of the same premises for him.”
Regardless of age or experience, LaFleur and Hackett are in agreement the biggest key for connecting a new staff with the returning roster is building relationships and an understanding of the groundwork of their system.
While still a member of the under-40 club, Hackett acknowledges he’s now “one of the older guys” on the coaching staff, as hard as that is to believe. At any rate, it’s his responsibility to pull together a young coaching staff that returns only one offensive coach (Ben Sirmans) from a year ago.
As LaFleur sets his vision for the offense, Hackett must make sure everyone is on the same page and the offensive coaches are comfortable with what’s being asked of them.
Stepping to the podium Monday with a wide smile and warm salutation, it’s obvious Hackett can’t wait to get to work.
“The opportunity Green Bay has given me is unbelievable and I’m so thankful for that,” Hackett said. “I just want to go back up there and work on football right now. It’s just a great opportunity and I’m very thankful for it and it’s about just attacking it every day and trying to get better and do whatever I can to help Matt, whatever I can do to help this organization.”