By Jerry Mcdonald
SANTA CLARA — 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan remembers reaching for the morning paper in the mid-to-late 1990s with a sense of dread after his father and the Denver Broncos had a tough day at the office.
“My biggest worry growing up when there was a tough Sunday was how are those two articles going to be Monday morning and wondering how much crap I was going to get from everyone at school,” Shanahan said, chuckling at the thought of comparing media at the time to the present day avalanche of mainstream media, blogs and social media.
“Now it’s updates every single minute. You do get a little hardened to that stuff, but you’re human. It’s harder on your wives, people that are out in the world.”
Around the same time Mike Shanahan was coach of the Denver Broncos, Nathaniel Hackett’s father Paul Hackett was the offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs. A local newspaper columnist wasn’t a fan, even starting a “Sack the Hack” campaign.
Nor was the press positive when Paul Hackett coached at USC from 1998 through 2000 and going 19-18 before being fired, with Pete Carroll coming on and turning the program around.
Kyle Shanahan is not losing any of the little sleep he gets over criticism for running quarterback Trey Lance into the line and losing him for the season with a broken right fibula.
Nathaniel Hackett, rookie head coach of the Denver Broncos, was crushed locally and nationally in Week 1 for calling on Brandon McManus for a pipe dream 64-yard field goal rather than have playmaking quarterback Russell Wilson create something on fourth-and-5 with time on the clock to get a little closer.
The Broncos lost 17-16, and then were unimpressive offensively in a 16-9 win over the Houston Texans to the point where fans were chanting “10, 9, 8 . . . “on the play clock as Hackett struggled to get plays in to Wilson on time.
It hasn’t been the smoothest of debuts in a media sense after nothing but good vibes in training camp, with the Broncos taking to Hackett’s approach.
Hackett is 42, the same age as Kyle Shanahan. Having grown up with a father as a coach, Hackett knows the score.
“We’re both coaches’ kids,” Hackett said this week during a conference call. “We’ve been involved in this game for a long time and there’s always criticism. If you win there’s criticism, if you lose there’s criticism. You just go about your day and work as hard as you possibly can.”
In August, D.J. Jones, a former 49ers defensive lineman, favorably compared Hackett’s approach to that of Shanahan.
“He’s a different coach, especially where I came from,” Jones said. “I’m not bashing them at all, but it was to the book. We didn’t — there wasn’t any shooting [basketballs] going on during team meetings or things like that. He brings a sense of enjoyment.”
The words of someone hoping to thrive in a new environment? Perhaps. But it’s clear Nathaniel Hackett and Kyle Shanahan have a lot in common.
Shanahan and Hackett have never worked together, but their paths intersect in terms of colleagues and philosophy. They believe in many of the same things about how to run an offense. Both use an outside zone run scheme as the foundation.
When then-49ers assistant Matt LaFleur became head coach of the Green Bay Packers, his brother Mike, also on the 49ers staff, was considering joining him. Shanahan blocked the move, but said this week that if he hadn’t, Hackett would have been in consideration to be the 49ers’ passing game coordinator.
“He was a guy we were obviously going to bring here when Mike was thinking about going with his brother,” Shanahan said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him. We’ve been around a lot of similar coaches.”
It was Hackett who wound up joining Matt LaFleur in Green Bay as offensive coordinator 2019-21. He didn’t call the plays, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers won a pair of MVPs and Hackett’s star rose.
When breaking into the NFL, Kyle Shanahan’s first job was on Jon Gruden’s staff with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2004-05. When Shanahan left to coach wide receivers for the Houston Texans, it was Hackett who replaced him.
The quarterbacks coach for the Bucs at the time was Paul Hackett.
“He was one of the most influential guys I had there,” Shanahan said. “He was unbelievable to me and taught me so much stuff.”
Nathaniel Hackett has never worked for the 49ers, but he is rooted in the franchise because Paul Hackett was an offensive assistant under Bill Walsh from 1983 to 1985. Nathaniel was barely five years old, but his father would pass on much of what he learned under Walsh.
“How we coach the quarterback here in Denver is all based off Bill’s principles and the things my father passed on to me,” Hackett said. “We still run a lot of the plays Bill Walsh ran back in those days.”
Hackett got to meet Walsh himself and talk football as a Stanford assistant from 2003 through 2005.
Shanahan has expressed no regrets about the way Lance’s season ended, saying it was a normal play run by many different teams.
Nathaniel Hackett, on other hand, conceded after missed McManus 64-yard field goal attempt that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea, and has owned up to struggles getting plays in on time after going from a non-play calling coordinator to a head coach that calls the plays.
Shanahan doesn’t expect Hackett’s growing pains to last long, harkening back to a 23-3 loss to the Carolina Panthers in 2017 in his first game as a play-calling head coach when the 49ers attempted to get first downs on four fourth-down plays. (They converted one).
“It’s not always about just getting the play in. There’s a lot more that goes into it,” Shanahan told Denver reporters. “Early on, it is a little bit harder when you’ve got a bunch of new players. I remember my first game I went for it four times and they were ones I should not have gone for. I’d never done that before and I realized, ‘OK, you can’t think like the coordinator.’
“They are all experiences you go through for the first time and (Denver) has a good coach and a very good offensive play-caller.”
Source: Paradise Post