With the pairing of Russell Wilson as the Denver Broncos’ new quarterback and Nathaniel Hackett as their rookie head coach producing ever-more-miserable results, the team’s first-year owners opted Monday for the only remedy immediately available to them. They fired Hackett, who was two games shy of completing his first season.
“Following extensive conversations with [General Manager George Paton] and our ownership group, we determined a new direction would ultimately be in the best interest of the Broncos,” Greg Penner, the franchise’s CEO, said in a statement. “This change was made now out of respect for everyone involved and allows us to immediately begin the search for a new head coach.”
We have parted ways with Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett.— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) December 26, 2022
A statement from Broncos Owner & CEO Greg Penner: pic.twitter.com/1tWMjHv6em
Assistant Jerry Rosburg will serve as the Broncos’ interim coach, the team announced. Defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero declined the assignment, according to a person familiar with the situation, because he preferred to continue to focus on the defense.
“We recognize and appreciate this organization’s championship history, and we understand we have not met that standard,” Penner said. “Our fans deserve much better, and I can’t say enough about their loyalty during such a challenging stretch for our team. Moving forward, we will carefully evaluate every aspect of our football operations and make whatever changes are necessary to restore this franchise’s winning tradition.”
Hackett is the third NFL head coach fired this season, following Matt Rhule by the Carolina Panthers in October and Frank Reich by the Indianapolis Colts last month.
The Broncos rank last in the NFL in scoring offense, averaging a mere 15.5 points. They had hired Hackett, who was coming off a stint as offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers, for his offensive acumen.
In March, they traded for Wilson, who was selected to nine Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl in his 10 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. The Broncos signed Wilson to a five-year, $245 million contract extension before the season and believed they were set to return to the NFL’s upper tier of contenders. But Wilson, 34, is having the worst season of his career, posting 12 touchdown passes, nine interceptions and a modest passer rating of 82.6.
The Broncos are tied to Wilson, given his contract. That was not the case with Hackett. So the choice was relatively clear-cut for owner Rob Walton, the Walmart heir who purchased the franchise over the summer from the Pat Bowlen Trust for an NFL-record $4.65 billion, and his investment partners. They took control in August, when fellow NFL team owners ratified the deal.
#Broncos backup Brett Rypien exchanged some words with the starting offensive line, defending Russell Wilson after he took another sack, per @tracywolfson. Dalton Risner pushed Rypien out of the way.— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) December 25, 2022
Here's the video, via CBS:pic.twitter.com/MR7TTCfEzK
The turbulence began for Hackett in his first game, when he opted for a 64-yard field goal try, which failed, in the closing seconds of a 17-16 loss at Seattle rather than leaving the offense on the field for a fourth-and-five attempt.
In October, disgruntled fans in Denver were shown leaving the stadium in significant numbers at the start of overtime during what became a 12-9 loss to the Colts.
Hackett attempted to address the issues. He added Rosburg to his coaching staff early in the season to assist with game management decisions. Later, he turned over play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak. Nothing seemed to help, and emotions began to boil over. Sunday’s lopsided loss to the Rams included backup quarterback Brett Rypien exchanging words on the sideline with guard Dalton Risner after a play on which Wilson was sacked, with Risner reacting by shoving Rypien.
On Monday, the NFL suspended Broncos pass rusher Randy Gregory and Rams offensive lineman Oday Aboushi for one game apiece for an on-field postgame skirmish Sunday.
Hackett was not available for comment Monday.
“Everybody’s frustrated,” he said after Sunday’s loss. “That was a bad game, embarrassing game. It was the first one that we’ve had like that. And so I know everybody’s frustrated. … We can’t show our frustration. We’ve got to take our frustrations out on the field the right way.”