ENGLEWOOD, Colorado— Until the early hours of Thursday morning, Broncos fans didn’t know who their next coach would be.
Nathaniel Hackett didn’t know much earlier that he was set to become an NFL head coach.
“Four days ago, maybe? Hackett joked Friday when asked when he first believed it was possible for him to become a head coach.
His longtime dream, however, came true when he officially signed his contract on Friday to become the Broncos’ 18th head coach in franchise history.
And as he was introduced to the media on Friday, details became clear of his journey from one of 10 candidates for the team’s new head coach.
From the first time the Broncos interviewed Hackett on Jan. 15, it became clear he was a strong candidate for the job.
“Nathaniel impressed us with his intelligence, innovative spirit and strong leadership qualities,” chief executive George Paton said Friday. “We met Nathaniel – the initial interview was in Green Bay – [and] he blew us away. It was four and a half hours for everything. He walks in the room, he lights it up.”
Paton and his six-person search committee met with 10 candidates, and the group was determined to have the interviews in person. Hackett’s infectious personality and energy translated quite well and proved the value of in-person sessions.
“When we got together in committee and talked about what we wanted to get out of the interviews, we just felt like it was a huge decision, obviously,” Paton said. “It’s going to be the biggest decision I’ll make in my career. It’s a huge decision for the organization. Depending on a zoom call, it just seemed ridiculous to me. We wanted to go, we wanted to know these candidates in person You get a different feel when they walk into the room, their presence, the feel of the body language. I’m just clapping [President/CEO] Joe Ellis and this organization for giving us the resources to do what we needed to do. Really, for us, it was a game-changer. When that guy walks into the room, you won’t get that on Zoom. I guarantee it.”
After completing the remainder of their first-round interviews, the Broncos hosted Hackett in Denver for their only second interview with a candidate. Paton estimated Hackett spent nine to ten hours in Denver on Monday, and they enjoyed a now-legendary meal at Los Dos Potrillos that Paton said helped seal the team’s decision.
“The more we spoke with Nathaniel, the more we realized he was the right leader for the Denver Broncos and really the perfect choice to restart this organization,” Paton said.
Still, Paton spent another two and a half hours on Zoom with Hackett on Tuesday to continue building their relationship.
“We brought him here on Monday and he was all day, and the least time he spent with anyone was me,” Paton said. “…Everyone wanted to meet him, he wanted to meet everyone. I really wanted to make sure he was comfortable in this organization, with the people here. I was comfortable, but I felt just that he and I needed to have more conversations. There’s so much involved in a coaching search when you talk about the staff and the people in the building. We had a one-on-one conversation during of our initial interview for half an hour, but like I said, we’re very process-oriented and I just felt like I needed a lot of time with him one-on-one. We’re going to live with each other. We’re partners. We’re linked at the hip. It’s him and me and our personal and [people in the building], but it all starts here with our relationship. And I’m so convinced of that and him and our partnership and I’m just excited to get started.”
When Hackett returned to Wisconsin on Monday night, he said he still wasn’t sure if he would be the team’s next coach. The communication between him and the team over the next few days, however, helped put him at ease.
“I think at the end of the day I felt good,” Hackett said. “I felt how good they felt. Again, it’s about communication. I thought we had great communication throughout the process. I think that’s what you’re looking for. That trust and that communication. I didn’t know. You never know. The back of the head as a coach and how it works, you never know 100%. Once you have that opportunity and that you hear it, that’s when you know it’s real.
And as Paton and Co. deliberated on their next move, it became increasingly clear to the Broncos general manager that it was time to move on without talking to another candidate for a second time.
“I spent a lot of time, like I said, with Nathaniel – and there was no reason to continue,” Paton said. “I was sold. We wanted to go through the process, there were a lot of good candidates. It was a very good group of candidates that we interviewed. I spent a lot of time with him and I knew what I was feeling. I talked to the staff, I talked to the management and I was like, ‘What do we do? He’s the Denver Broncos guy.”
“We pulled the cord and made the decision and couldn’t be more excited.”