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Here's Why Nathaniel Hackett Could Become Fourth Broncos' HC to Win Double-Digit Games in Year 1

Can Nathaniel Hackett turn the ship around for the Broncos after six long years of living in the NFL doldrums?

In 1977, Red Miller led the Denver Broncos to a 12-2 record and a Super Bowl berth in his first year as head coach. Gary Kubiak bested that mark in 2015 by going 12-4 in Year 1 and going all the way to winning the Super Bowl.

Those two seasons stand today as the most prolific first-year campaigns for a head coach in Broncos history. Miller was Denver's sixth head coach of all time, while Kubiak was the 15th. Nathaniel Hackett is the team's 18th head man to ever take the scepter. 

One of the questions most often broached from fans on the Huddle Up Podcast is whether Hackett can lead the Broncos to a double-digit win campaign in his first year as head coach. It's only happened three times before in team annals, Miller, Dan Reeves circa 1981, and Kubiak in 2015, which puts in perspective how hard it is for a first-year coach to achieve. 

If it's going to happen, and I believe it will, it's going to be because, like those three coaches before him, Hackett will benefit from possessing the rarest of NFL commodities — a bonafide franchise quarterback. Miller and Reeves each had Craig Morton in Year 1, while Kubiak had Peyton Manning. 

You often hear that a franchise QB is "the tide that raises all ships." It's true but that age-old NFL cliche isn't just talking about a franchise signal-caller elevating the players around him. He also raises the coaches. 

All things being equal, counting against Hackett as a first-year head coach is the fact that each of his coordinators is also holding his respective position for the first time ever. If we were talking about Hackett inheriting a Drew Lock-led quarterback room, augmented by, say, a rookie taken in the 2022 NFL draft, the relative inexperience of him and his top assistants would be a poor harbinger for how the first year would play out. 

But we're talking about Mr. Consistent — Russell Wilson. Wilson has been in the league for a decade, entrenched as a starter since Week 1 of his rookie season in Seattle, and he's led his team to the playoffs in each season but two. 

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Along the way, Wilson has been selected to the Pro Bowl in all but one of his NFL campaigns. Over the years in Seattle, Wilson's presence ensured that the Seahawks were a better team than they had any right to be, based on roster strengths and weaknesses and coaching foibles. 

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Hackett gets to piggyback off of Wilson's dynamic ability and extensive experience as a starter in the NFL. The same goes for Broncos' offensive coordinator Justin Outten. 

Wilson's presence levels the playing field for Hackett as a head coach and gives him a mighty leg up compared to recent first-timers in Denver like Vance Joseph and Vic Fangio. It won't be easy contending in the stacked AFC West but if there's any quarterback the Broncos could have acquired that would give them the ability to run this divisional gamut, it's Wilson, who navigated the perilous NFC West for a decade to stunning success. 

The Seahawks didn't win the division every year Wilson was there but with only two exceptions, that team was always a force to be reckoned with. The Broncos are no longer a 'gimme game' on the schedule for the AFC West champions of the past six years — the Kansas City Chiefs. 

One big difference between Miller's 12-2 finish in Year 1 as head coach and what Hackett faces in 2022 is the fact that the NFL schedule back then was 14 regular-season games. Nowadays, it's 17.

If anything, though, that only gives Hackett more opportunities to match, or beat, Miller and Kubiak's 12-win debut. And remember, Hackett faces a 15th-ranked strength of schedule in his first year. 

Throw into the mix a young, dynamic defense and a special teams unit now coached by the intense, no-nonsense Dwayne Stukes, and I like Hackett's chances of becoming the fourth head coach in Broncos history to notch double-digit wins in Year 1. 


Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.

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