Why Robert Saleh believes Jets 'hit a home run' with Nathaniel Hackett hire

Oct 17, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett reacts during the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium.
Oct 17, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett reacts during the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium.  

Robert Saleh knew what he wanted. From the moment he and Mike LaFleur parted ways, the Jets head coach had a list of the traits he needed his next offensive coordinator to possess. He was unwilling to waver on any:

An offense that worked with average quarterback play, then reached another level with an elite talent under center. Commitment to the run game. An innovative teacher. Most importantly: Experience as a play-caller.

Saleh was getting a second strike. There likely wouldn't be a third. So he had to get this right.

Nathaniel Hackett checked all the boxes. So, on Thursday, Hackett became the Jets' next OC.

"He's a laundry list of stuff we're really, really excited about," Saleh said.

It didn't take long for the Jets and Hackett to find themselves linked. Actually, the moment LaFleur vacated his post, Hackett was listed as a name to watch. He and Saleh worked together in Jacksonville from 2015 through 2016. Hackett then joined Saleh's best friend, Matt LaFleur, in Green Bay. The Broncos hired Hackett as their head coach before the 2022 season, but fired him before the year ended.

To say things were a disaster in Denver would be an understatement. The dysfunctional mess things devolved into were hardly a result of the coach, though. Russell Wilson made Hackett's attempts to install his offense near impossible. He arrived and basically told the staff what he did and didn't want to do. Hackett succumbed to the political game. When it comes to who does and doesn't have pull, the odds hedge toward the player signed to a $250 million contract.

While the Jets took everything into consideration before moving forward with Hackett, they put far more weight on his career accomplishments, compared to one bad season in a bad situation. Hackett experienced varying degrees of legitimate success while running the offenses for the Bills (2013-2014) and Jaguars (2016-2018), despite not having great quarterback play. The Bills ranked 25th and 26th in Football Outsiders DVOA with E.J. Manuel and Kyle Orton. The Jaguars peaked at 15th (2017) with Blake Bortles.

Hackett was at his best when he joined LaFleur and all-world quarterback Aaron Rodgers (2019-2021). Green Bay ranked seventh, first and second in DVOA during those three years. Rodgers threw 111 touchdowns. While the offensive coordinator, Hackett was not the primary play-caller with the Packers. He did oversee game planning and the red zone.

"You have to be able to look past recency bias," Saleh said. "You have to look past whatever you want to call Denver. The fact is he got that opportunity because of his life's work as an offensive coordinator."

While the Jets are fully committed to adding a veteran quarterback this offseason, and Hackett's hire will do nothing to slow the hype the Jets might trade for Rodgers, it's very clear New York plans to adjust its thinking from quarterback-centric, to run-game oriented. That's a big reason why Hackett was one of two hired by the Jets on Thursday. They also added former Titans offensive line coach Keith Carter as their line coach and run game coordinator.

The Jets want to do everything they can to make their quarterback's life easier. They believe the best way to do that is by feeding running back Breece Hall and reworking the front five. You combine that with Hackett's ability to get the most out of those at his disposal, and it's easy to see why the Jets fell for him.

"He has an unbelievable ability to connect with people," Saleh said. "His personality is magnetic."

The last few weeks were rough for Saleh - a vacation awaits him on Friday. He interviewed nearly two dozen candidates for his coordinator vacancy. He looked at young and old. Inexperienced and experienced. Guys coaching the pros and others in college.

It didn't take long before he realized he wanted Hackett - and the Jets weren't alone. He just needed to wait to see if Hackett wanted the Jets, too. Considering how things went with the Broncos, few would fault the 43-year-old for spending the next four years on a beach collecting the final paychecks from his guaranteed contract. The resounding sentiment around the NFL was that's where Hackett was headed.

Instead, he's on a flight to New York. He wants to be there and the Jets are ready to welcome him with open arms.

"It feels like we hit a home run," Saleh said.


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