Atlanta Falcons interview Packers OC Nathaniel Hackett for head coach opening

Nathaniel Hackett could well pick up some steam as an NFL head coaching candidate after completing an interview with the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday.

By Matt Fitzgerald
Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett during a joint training camp practice with the Houston Texans at Ray Nitchske Field Tuesday, August 6, 2019, in Ashwaubenon, Wis. Credit: © Joshua Clark/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wis. via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Green Bay Packers earned a first-round bye as the NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed, and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was a big part of the success enjoyed by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the offense. Although it’s early in the Atlanta Falcons‘ head coaching search, they’ve now interviewed Hackett for their vacancy.

Hackett has been in his post on Packers coach Matt LaFleur’s staff since 2019, playing a key part in Green Bay’s back-to-back 13-3 seasons.

Nathaniel Hackett interviews for Atlanta Falcons HC vacancy

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Peter Schrager reported the news on Hackett, who carried out his interview virtually. Rapoport added an interesting anecdote about Hackett from Rodgers, whose choice words at the end are sure to create clickbait fodder:

To remain on topic about Hackett rather than Rodgers’ future — spoiler alert: he’s probably staying in Green Bay no matter what as the probable NFL MVP — the Packers’ assistant hasn’t really been on the radar for head coaching vacancies around the league. The Falcons were Hackett’s first interview, whereas other hot names have already conducted multiple interviews.

In order to keep Rodgers happy, though, it’d be a surprise if the Packers didn’t do all they could to keep Hackett in the fold. That said, LaFleur is the one who calls the plays on game day, so at least if Hackett bails to lead another team, Green Bay wouldn’t be losing its play-caller.

Prior to landing on LaFleur’s staff, Hackett’s resume has a lot of stops that are easy to overlook. Upon closer examination, though, it’s obvious why he’s appealing as a sleeper head coach candidate in 2021.

Can Nathaniel Hackett become a head coach with Atlanta Falcons or elsewhere?

Can Nathaniel Hackett become a head coach with Atlanta Falcons or elsewhere?
Nathaniel Hackett, the Green Bay Packers’ new offensive coordinator, speaks to media on Feb. 18, 2019 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Credit: Sarah Kloepping/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wis

Rodgers’ ringing endorsement speaks well to Hackett’s candidacy. However, he doesn’t generate the same buzz as some other reputable offensive minds like Carolina Panthers wunderkind Joe Brady or longtime Kansas City Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy, who seems like a great fit for Atlanta if it’s ultimately determined Hackett isn’t the man for the job.

Maybe that’s good for the Packers and the remainder of Rodgers’ tenure. Once the front office drafted Jordan Love in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, it seemed another year below Rodgers’ extraordinary standards would spell the end for him as Green Bay’s starter.

However, Rodgers had other ideas. It turns out, even with no real training camp to speak of or preseason — nor any visible upgrades to the superstar passer’s supporting cast — the continuity under LaFleur and Hackett in Year 2 resulted in Rodgers putting up his best season ever.

In finishing the 2020 campaign with 48 touchdown passes to only five interceptions and 4,299 yards passing, Rodgers made a huge statement. The fact that he’s said Hackett deserves a ton of credit for such mind-boggling numbers is a testament to the coach’s ability.

Hackett’s prior stop with the Jacksonville Jaguars required him to work predominantly with Blake Bortles. Despite being saddled with a first-round draft bust, Hackett designed an offense good enough to get the Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game and a 10-6 record in 2017.

Taking all that into consideration, perhaps NFL organizations searching for a new head coach are, in fact, sleeping on the 41-year-old Hackett as one of the premier candidates in the pipeline.

Atlanta could do much worse than land Hackett, but the team will leave no stone unturned and can’t jump to a decision hastily.

But whether it’s trade candidate Matt Ryan at quarterback or a new face of the franchise for the Falcons — courtesy of the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft — strong evidence suggest Hackett can, ahem, hack it, and work well with whomever Atlanta would give him.