ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Until the early hours of Thursday morning, Broncos fans were unaware who would become their next coach.
Nathaniel Hackett didn’t know much earlier that he was on the precipice of becoming 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, though, became a reality as 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, the details became clear of his journey from one of 10 candidates to the team’s new head coach.
From the first time the Broncos interviewed Hackett on Jan. 15, it became evident that he was a strong candidate for the job.
“Nathaniel impressed us with his intelligence, his innovation and his strong leadership qualities,” General Manager George Paton said Friday. “We met with Nathaniel — the initial interview was in Green Bay — [and] he blew us away. It was a four and a half hours about 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 personality and infectious energy translated quite well and proved the value of the in-person sessions.
“When we met as a committee and we talked about what we wanted to get out of the interviews, we just felt it is a huge decision, obviously,” Paton said. “This will be the biggest decision I make in my career. It’s a huge decision for the organization. To depend on a zoom call, it just seemed ridiculous to me. We wanted to go, we wanted to get 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 just applaud [President/CEO] Joe Ellis and this organization for giving us the resources to do what we had to do. Really, for us, it was a game-changer. When this guy walks into the room, you’re not going to get that on Zoom. I guarantee it.”
After completing the rest of their first-round interviews, the Broncos welcomed Hackett to Denver for their lone second interview with a candidate. Paton estimated that Hackett spent nine to 10 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 talked with Nathaniel, the more we realized he was the right leader for the Denver Broncos and really the perfect choice to reboot this organization,” Paton said.
Still, Paton spent another two and a half hours on Zoom with Hackett on Tuesday to continue to build their relationship.
“We brought him here that Monday and he spent the whole day, and the least amount of 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 just felt he and I needed to have some more conversations. There’s so many things involved in a coaching search when you’re talking about staff and the people in the building. We had a one-on-one conversation on our initial interview for a half hour, but like I said, we’re very process-oriented and I just felt I needed a lot of time with him one on one. Because we’re going to be living with each other. We’re partnered. We’re tied at the hip. It’s him and I and our staffs and the [people in the building], but it all starts here with our relationship. And I am so sold on that and him and our partnership and I’m just excited to get going.”
When Hackett flew back to Wisconsin on Monday night, he said he remained uncertain whether he would become the team’s next coach. The communication between himself and the team over the following days, though, helped put him at ease.
“I think In the end, I felt great,” Hackett said. “I felt how great they felt. Again, it’s about the communication. I thought we had great communication throughout the whole process. I think that’s what you’re looking for. That trust and communication. I didn’t know. You never know. In the back of the head as a coach and how that stuff works, you never know 100 percent. Once you get that opportunity and you hear it, that’s when you know it’s real.”
And as Paton and Co. deliberated their next move, it became increasingly clear to the Broncos’ general manager that it was time to move forward without speaking to another candidate for a second time.
“I spent a lot of time, like I said, with Nathaniel — and there was no reason to go on,” Paton said. “I was sold. We wanted to go through the process, there were a lot of great candidates. This was a really good group of candidates that we interviewed. I spent a lot of time with him, and I knew how I felt. I talked to the staff, I talked to the leadership and was like, ‘What are we doing? This is the guy for the Denver Broncos.’
“We pulled the cord and made the decision and couldn’t be more excited.”