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Solid-Gold Hackett Becomes Top Coaching Candidate

"He’s got an incredible passion, he has a great football mind, he’s an incredible teacher," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on Thursday.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – During the playoff bye week, Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett interviewed for the Atlanta Falcons’ coaching vacancy.

Hackett didn’t get the job, meaning he’s back for Year 3 with Green Bay after guiding a unit that led the NFL in scoring and set up quarterback Aaron Rodgers for his third MVP award. He entered this season considered perhaps the hottest candidate for next offseason’s coaching cycle.

“It’s obviously very flattering,” Hackett said on Friday. “It’s awesome. It’s a credit to all the players that are on this team, Matt (LaFleur), all the players from the past and stuff like that. It’s awesome to get that kind of recognition. But it’s kind of ironic after we got annihilated, because usually that success comes from being successful. But, you know, it is great. It’s awesome to hear. But it’s about the next opponent, one week, one day at a time.”

If Hackett needs references on his resume, he'll get one from the reigning MVP.

“Definitely,” Rodgers said on Thursday when asked if Hackett is a future head coach. “Look, he’s been around the game forever. He’s got an incredible passion, he has a great football mind, he’s an incredible teacher. I definitely see him as head coach material.”

Hackett isn’t simply the beneficiary of having Rodgers on the roster. And he’s not Ben McAdoo and Joe Philbin, who went from non-play-calling assistants under Mike McCarthy to head-coaching flameouts with the Giants and Dolphins. Hackett, the son of longtime college coach and NFL assistant Paul Hackett, is a football lifer. He’s been successful everywhere he’s been, from Syracuse – hardly a college football blueblood – to the Jacksonville Jaguars, where Blake Bortles wasn’t exactly Rodgers 2.0.

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“It’s good having him back. He’s a stud. He’s a future Hall of Famer,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.

He is smart with X’s and O’s but also brings a human element with an infection enthusiasm, boundless energy and a love of fun to connect with players. Last year, that all came together in the gold zone. Traditionally, the 20-yard line to the goal line is the red zone. Hackett flipped that to the gold zone because of Austin Powers villain Goldmember.

“Big fan of Austin Powers. Really enjoyed those,” Hackett said in November. “And Goldmember is one of those guys that, he loves gold. And I think you’ve got to respect somebody that really loves gold. And for us, when you get inside the 20-yard line, you have a chance to score touchdowns, (if) we score, everybody gets gold. … I think that’s something that the guys have really bought into and they’ve learned to love and appreciate Goldmember and what he believes in, and we believe in a lot of the same stuff. Not the bad villain stuff but the get-the-gold stuff.”

It wasn’t just goofy or quirky. It was effective. Since the NFL began tracking red-zone data in 1999, Green Bay’s red-zone touchdown rate of 80 percent was the best.

“It makes a big difference — not just a culture difference,” Rodgers said last season. “It’s the energy that he brings. It’s unbelievable sometimes. Because we talk, at night especially on Mondays and Tuesdays, about things. I know the work that he puts in. To see him get up there every Wednesday and Friday (at the front of the offensive meeting room) and bring that energy, it’s what you need. It really is. I mean, he does a fantastic job.

“I think if anything, it reminds us, ‘Hey, it takes all 11. … It’s not just about you. It’s about all the guys. So, let’s celebrate together.’ There’s some really important messaging underneath the Goldmember and the laughter about his story — about what’s most important. And that’s the relationships and doing things together.”

For more on Hackett, including the prank that went awry that pushed his career from medicine to coaching, see Conor Orr’s profile at SI.com.