Nathaniel Hackett's coaching pedigree stretches back to his father, Paul, who was the Jets' OC early this century. He has helped different quarterbacks (Kyle Orton and Blake Bortles, for example) to success. In his three seasons as the OC in Green Bay, he and Aaron Rodgers forged an incredibly impressive professional relationship.
But what is really rare when it comes to Hackett is the major he earned at the University of California-Davis: Neurobiology, which is the study of the nervous system and how the brain works.
"At the time, I wanted to be a doctor," Hackett told Eric Allen on this week's edition of "The Official Jets Podcast." " If I could have done surgery on the 50-yard line with 50,000 people watching, I would want to do that. Now I'm a coach. It was one of the harder majors at Davis. I loved it. It was a great experience. It would have been fun being a doctor."
Hackett, 43, joined the Jets this offseason to do a little nip-and-tuck on the Green & White's offense. As HC Robert Saleh said, Hackett could have been chilling on a beach somewhere, biding his time and collecting a hefty paycheck after he was dismissed as the coach of Denver Broncos last December. Instead, he took a call from Saleh, a guy Hackett has known since they were assistants with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2015-16.
"He called and I thought we were just going to talk about life, love and the pursuit of happiness," Hackett, the QB coach in Jacksonville, said of Saleh, the linebackers coach there. "Then all of a sudden, it turned serious and it was about becoming part of his staff. He was great about the whole process. Obviously, it was an emotional year. Just working with him, he's a friend. I have so much respect for him. It just seemed like it was the right thing to do.
"So many different factors went into it. Family was the most important to me, being able to spend time now that my kids, who are a little older. When this opportunity came up, to work with Robert and the coaches on his staff who I know, believe in and trust — Rudy [LB coach Mike Rutenberg], Cotton [DL coach Aaron Whitecotton] and [TE coach] Ron Middleton. Those guys mean so much to me. And it was the Jets, the place my dad had been close to. There are so many positive things about it. I wanted to hop right on it."
Three of Rodgers' 18 seasons in Green Bay with Hackett were some of the most productive of Rodgers' certain Hall of Fame career.
"A big reason I'm here, I have to mention him, is Nathaniel Hackett," Rodgers said during his introductory press conference last week. "Hackett and I became really close friends for three years in Green Bay and I love him like a brother. I believe in him. I'm really happy to be back working with him again. Obviously, [GM] Joe [Douglas] has a great track record so far of drafting some incredible players, but it takes a system and obviously Robert has the right sauce, so I'm excited about getting to work with him and Brick [DC Jeff Ulbrich], and [DB coach] Marquand [Manuel], a former teammate of mine. It's a great staff. I'm an old guy, so I want to be part of a team that can win it all. I believe that this is a place we can get that done."
After serving as the Jaguars' OC from 2016-18, when the team went to the AFC title game with Bortles under center, Hackett was hired by Matt LaFleur as Green Bay's OC.
"Matt LaFleur really opened my eyes to another world," Hackett said. "We had the inside zone, we had the gap schemes, we had all those things and were very good at all of them. All of a sudden, here's this outside zone world and it's mind-blowing the space you can get for the running backs, the redistribution it forces of the linebackers in play pass and to throw it down the field. The last thing I heard that made the system we've got now all-encompassing is that you have the ability to change your system for the personnel you have. It's great to have a bit of everything to change it for the players."
And it doesn't hurt to have a quarterback with the talent, the smarts and the passion of Aaron Rodgers. In their three seasons together (13 wins in each of them), Rodgers put up some absolutely mind-boggling numbers: 2019, 353 of 569 (62%), 4,002 yards, 26 TD passes, 4 INTs; 2020, 372 of 526 (70.7%), 4,299, 48 TD passes, 5 INTs; and 2021, 366 of 531 (68.9%), 37 TD passes, 4 INT. Rodgers was the NFL MVP in 2020 and 2021.
"It's unbelievable, 48 TDs and 5 INT," Hackett said. "I think the beauty of Aaron is his ability to see the defense and understand how and why to attack. Be aggressive with efficiency, he's smart in his decision-making and when to take a risk and when not to. His assessment throughout the game in real time is pretty spectacular."
See the best images of Aaron Rodgers' first day as a New York Jet.
In addition to the reunion with Rodgers, the Jets have also brought in several of Hackett's former students: WR Allen Lazard, T Billy Turner, QB Tim Boyle, WR Randall Cobb and WR Malik Taylor.
"With Aaron and me, I got lucky," Hackett said. "We have a lot of the same personality. We're each inquisitive, we both like to know different answers for everything. We just kind of hit it off from that and our background in the West Coast offense. Mike McCarthy [the former Packers HC] trained Aaron, my dad was with him [McCarthy] for eight years. The same things I learned are the same things Aaron learned. We also have that mindset, the same personality and humor. We just hit it off. The relationship is strong now and I'm grateful for it."
When asked how Rodgers can raise the standard at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, Hackett said: "By walking in. He walks in and you feel that aura around him, the chip on his shoulder all the time. He wants to be great at everything he does. Ultra-competitive, wants to do every single thing he can to win. He cares. He's not just a football player. He cares about the people around him and wants to get to know them."
Hackett added: "[With Rodgers] you never know what's going to happen. It's going to be fun, it's just great to be with him, to know the man he is and how he operates every day. We're lucky to know that in every game we have a chance."