DENVER — Nathaniel Hackett welcomed the interview process with the Broncos. He can think on his feet.
He taught hip-hop dance classes in college, and has continued to encourage and follow his daughter's dancing dreams. This is a man with a sense of humor, endless energy and a creative bent that drives his coaching.
Already passionate about the sport, Hackett, 42, found a perfect fit on coach Matt LaFleur's staff with the Packers, helping him evolve into one of the top candidates for the Broncos' open vacancy. Denver talked with Hackett on Saturday in Green Bay, the third of 10 planned interviews with candidates.
"Being able to come here to Green Bay with Matt and being able to learn Matt's system ... it has been huge for me as a person. And to watch him as a first-time head coach go through it has taught me so much about (the role)," Hackett said. "Having a young staff and seeing how to teach and bring everyone together, it's been an amazing experience."
Interestingly, Hackett made it clear that LaFleur has created the right culture. It empowers coaches to create relationships with players and players to reciprocate. Accountability follows. Hackett's experience in Green Bay should have resonated with Broncos general manager George Paton.
Paton has identified leadership as his top priority in the Broncos' next coach, and Hackett's checks a lot of boxes, which is why I consider him a top candidate along with Cowboys defensive boss Dan Quinn.
"The final thing (Hackett observed in Green Bay) is the culture and the culture Matt brought here. This is how it should be," Hackett said.
Hackett interviewed for the Atlanta coaching job last season, something he called a "shock and a blur." It made him better prepared for his meeting with the Broncos.
"Now to be able to have all that preparation done, and being able to tweak it, you feel more comfortable in what you are saying and what you believe in," Hackett said. "And (you) show that to the owner(s). There's always some jitters with the first one. There's a little bit of nervousness. And as you get to know them, it's really about making it feel more comfortable and natural."
The appeal of Hackett is layered. The Broncos desperately need jumper cables attached to their offense, which has not averaged 21 points a game since Peyton Manning retired following Super Bowl 50. It's the primary reason Denver has posted five consecutive losing seasons.
Hackett ran the Jaguars' offense when they reached the AFC Championship game with Blake Bortles. While Hackett does not call plays in Green Bay, he helps formulate the game plan and communicates with quarterback Aaron Rodgers on game day.
Hackett has grown up around the game, his father Paul serving as the head coach at Pitt and USC along with countless stops in the NFL.
What makes Hackett different is that he isn't an old-school coach despite growing up in that environment. He loves dancing, wine and Austin Powers movies. It has allowed him to connect with players, something that Vic Fangio struggled to do in his three years in Denver. Hackett's friendship with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers — who may or may not be available for the Broncos to pursue again this offseason — is well-known.
"His presentations are legendary, they really are. He finds ways every single week to come up with new cool ideas,” Rodgers told The Washington Post of Hackett. “He’s got infectious energy. He’s hilarious.”
The Broncos interviewed Packers QBs coach and passing game coordinator Luke Getsy on Friday. Hackett and Getsy are good friends, and there's speculation Hackett would try to bring Getsy with him if he landed the job in Denver. He joked the two could have done their interview together with the Broncos like the scene in "Step Brothers."
Hackett's personality and positive vibe would be welcomed in Denver. He is also a candidate in Jacksonville and Chicago. Paton plans to talk with the seven remaining candidates in five days, beginning Tuesday. That list includes Quinn, Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell, Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy, Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo and Cowboys OC Kellen Moore.