Nathaniel Hackett’s enthusiasm knew no bounds Thursday in his first meeting with the Western New York media.
The Buffalo Bills’ new offensive coordinator offered a 690-word answer to the first question he faced from reporters.
While there were still a few topics he shied away from, Hackett spoke at length about his upbringing as a football coach’s son, and how he’s prepared himself for the position he’s in at just 33 years old.
“When I was 8 years old, I remember being a ball boy with the Dallas Cowboys, just being in awe of Tom Landry,” he said.
Hackett’s been fortunate to be around brilliant football minds basically all his life, from coaches like Landry and Marty Schottenheimer, to intimate familiarity with the offensive system of his father, Paul.
“I think the big thing is, you have to always want to learn. You have to be a historian of football,” he said. “Technology these days, I can go back and look at 1984 cut-ups in black and white and try to learn how plays evolved. Watching the K-Gun with Jim Kelly from when I was here, looking at all that video. Joe Montana playing, who’s a friend of our family, I mean you look at all those different things. You just want to keep pushing yourself to learn and learn. Almost like get your Ph.D. in football. I think that’s something I’ve been very lucky to be a part of.”
Hackett’s first job in the NFL came with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under coach Jon Gruden, as offensive quality control coach in the 2006 and ’07 seasons.
“My two years there, they were very extreme. I like to think about it as it was the Harvard of football,” he said. “When you’re there and you have two years of NFL experience, I mean, it’s amazing. The amount of pass drawings I drew, I want to say I drew up about 15,000 pass plays.”
Hackett then served as offensive quality control coach with the Bills for two seasons in 2008 and ’09.
“I got an opportunity to work with protections, with all kinds of different things, run game. As a quality control guy, a lot of people say, ‘what is that?’ I kind of looked at it as a coordinator in training, because you’re responsible for making sure every single thing is perfect,” he said. “From scripts, schedules, all the drawings. You can’t just know the pass game, you can’t just know this technique or that technique, you have to understand how the line works, how they draw things, how they’re going to be looked at. Because if you draw something wrong, they’re going to look at you and say, ‘well that line was right there, that’s what you wanted me to do.’
“So I think when you’re doing that and you’re doing that every week, watching all the film, breaking it down, getting everything ready, you understand the pressure to get it ready for those coaches.”
If there is concern about Hackett’s age among the team’s fans, it’s not shared by the man whose opinion counts most, head coach Doug Marrone.
“On paper, yes, you may look at that and say it’s only four years in this league at this level and what he has done, but for me, I looked at it as a lifetime of experience,” he said.
Marrone didn’t interview anyone else for offensive coordinator with the Bills after he was hired.
“I knew right away that if this was the situation, Nathaniel was the one I wanted to be with,” he said.
Marrone also explained why he’s comfortable with Hackett calling the plays on offense.
“We worked through that all when we were at Syracuse and I was extremely happy with where we were going and where we were developing,” he said. “For me, personally, with my beliefs on offense, it was very easy for me to make the decision that I wanted Nathaniel here because we’ve gone though three years together of the growing pains of what we want to do and where we want to be.”
Hackett, though, wouldn’t get pinned down on what exactly that system will look like with the Bills.
“When I first got to Syracuse, Coach Marrone and I, we had experience in so many different systems. What we wanted to do is take all those systems and take all of our things that we love the best and combine them into one and really learn how to teach it,” Hackett said.
“So we kind of created this system from all the different systems we’ve done and we wanted it to be very multiple. You always want to be able to attack in certain things, you never kind of want to limit yourself.”
As to whether Ryan Fitzpatrick is the right quarterback to lead the team, Hackett said: “I think right now I have to continue to evaluate. I have to see what everything is across the board. Watching him, watching all the other quarterbacks out there, watching all the draft guys, that’s really what I’m doing right now. I’m trying to look and get the best evaluation on everybody.”