Despite sky-high expectations, the Broncos have fallen to 2-5. They’re facing the Jaguars in London on Sunday. Quite possibly, Denver will enter the bye at 2-6.
What will that mean for head coach Nathaniel Hackett, who arrived before the team’s new owners did?
Here’s what it could mean, and maybe what it should mean. Some coordinators can become effective head coaches, some can’t. Hackett has proven through seven games that he can’t.
Should he get the rest of the year to prove what we already know? Some guys (like Brian Daboll and Kevin O’Connell) can figure it out right away. Others show us sooner than later that they can’t.
There’s no shame in not thriving as an NFL head coach. Few NFL coaches are able to become an effective head coach. Hackett, like Norv Turner and Wade Phillips, may be better suited to being a coordinator.
For ownership that didn’t hire Hackett, they need to ask themselves whether it makes sense to make an in-season shift to defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. With Evero possibly in line to get head-coaching consideration elsewhere for 2023, why not give him an eight-game on-the-job audition? If they’re already thinking about parting ways with Hackett after the season, why not do it as the bye week arrives and nine games remain to be played?
Regardless, the honeymoon is long since over for Hackett. That’s becoming more and more obvious, every week.
Hackett seemed salty at the start of his post-game press conference on after Sunday’s 16-9 loss to the Jets, when asked about the team’s struggles on offense.
“I’m sick of being up here saying the same thing over and over again,” Hackett said. “The opportunities are there. At some point we have to take it, there’s no excuses. We’ve been in every single game. We have to win these games. As a team, as an offense, defense, everybody. We’ve had these opportunities, we have been in these situations. It’s frustrating being up here having to say the same thing because like I said, those opportunities are there. We have to make them. It’s that simple, it’s the NFL. It’s going to be hard. Especially close games which we’ve been in, you have to come through and win those games.”
Later came a question commonly posed to coaches of struggling teams. How much has the heat increased, given that they’ve won only two of seven games?
“The heat’s always on,” Hackett said. “Anything you want, you want to always try to give yourself a chance to get to the playoffs. We’re behind the eight ball right now, 2-5. We have to find a way to fight ourselves out of this hole.”
Inevitably, Hackett was asked another question that struggling coaches here. Would he consider giving up play-calling duties?
“I think we’ll always look at everything,” Hackett said. “I always look at myself, first and foremost. If there’s something that we all agree that I might hold the team back or anything like that, sure. I don’t think that’s the case. I think there are plays to he had there. I think we have been in and out of the huddle. Everything with communication has been really good. But we’ll look at everything. We’ll always look at everything to try to improve and help this offense.”
Ultimately, the best approach could be to give the whistle to Evero, make the defense the centerpiece of the team, and streamline/simplify the offense. It worked for the Seahawks during quarterback Russell Wilson‘s early years in Seattle. It may be the only way to make things work in Denver.
Whatever ownership decides, the winds of change already seem to be blowing in Denver. The Wal-Mart moguls who are operating the team surely won’t chase one mistake with another one. They’ll make firm and conclusive decisions as needed. And it feels as if something is needed, sooner than later, for a Broncos team that rolled the dice on Hackett becoming an effective head coach.
Again, there’s no shame in the fact that it’s not working. One of the keys to running a non-dysfunctional organization is to not compound a mistake by making another one while trying to justify the first one.
If nothing else, making a bold and big move could help persuade the paying customers that new management isn’t messing around. That vibe is exactly what the Broncos currently seem to need.