New York Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett meets with the media. New York Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett meets with the media. Photo Credit: SNY

Under the best of circumstances, Nathaniel Hackett was never going to get the credit. 

Aaron Rodgers could have won another MVP trophy, and the New York Jets could have reached the Super Bowl. It likely wouldn’t have made a difference to Hackett’s reputation. He’s the offensive coordinator the Jets brought in to appease Rodgers. Hackett was someone who would run the offense the way Rodgers’ wanted. Think of him as more of an administrative assistant than a taskmaster. If the dream scenario came true, give Rodgers a standing ovation and give Hackett a polite golf clap.

We don’t have to imagine this hypothetical— at least not in 2023. The Jets’ season appears sunk due to Rodgers’ season-ending Achilles tendon injury. Has any 1-0 team inspired less confidence? New York only won Monday night because Josh Allen was awful for the Buffalo Bills, and the Jets lucked out with an overtime punt return for a touchdown. That’s not a sustainable formula for victory.

The Jets are (reluctantly) turning the keys over to Zach Wilson. We’ve seen this horror show before. Wilson had the worst passer rating in the NFL last year. If he had been close to average, New York likely would have made the playoffs. Clearly, no one expects much from the Jets A.R. (after Rodgers). They’re an 8.5-point underdog against the Dallas Cowboys (1-0) at AT&T Stadium on Sunday.

Despite dire circumstances, there could be a silver lining. A terrible situation for the organization might become a terrific opportunity for Hackett. If he can somehow motivate and scheme Wilson into being a functional quarterback, he’ll receive a ton of credit. Yes, it’s simplistic, but it’s also true. Here is Hackett’s shot at redemption after his failed stint last year as head coach of the Denver Broncos.

Hackett was so lousy with the Broncos that even Sean Payton famously piled on. This type of coach-on-coach public criticism is something rarely heard. Payton’s opinion reverberated so strongly that he later walked back the comments. Hackett had already suffered the indignity of being fired as a rookie coach after starting 4-11. He took the blame (deservedly so) for Russell Wilson having the worst season of his career.

Now, Hackett will be responsible for nurturing the 24-year-old Wilson. Can he salvage the career of the second-overall pick of the 2021 draft? That’s a big ask. In 23 career games, Wilson has 21 turnovers (19 interceptions, 2 lost fumbles). Before the start of the season, there was some talk about how much Wilson improved. But when Wilson entered Monday night after Rodgers’ exit, even Peyton Manning didn’t hide his disdain.

A good coach puts his players in a position to succeed. A good coach doesn’t ask players to do what they can’t. From that standpoint, Hackett needs to find a way to instill confidence in Wilson and create a game plan that suits him and the Jets’ needs. If he can coax competent play out of turnover-prone Wilson, that will impress the rest of the league. It’s one thing to say something obvious, such as the Jets will run the ball more, and Wilson will be asked to make limited reads and easy throws. It’s another thing to get Wilson to execute that strategy.

Earlier this week, Hackett said the Jets have “seen him grow.”

“There’s gonna be ups and downs with all quarterbacks and with all players, especially young players,” he said, according to SNY. “There’s always gonna be questions. For me as a coach, I just want to keep teaching him. I just want him to feel more and more comfortable and keep growing.”

Calling plays with a Hall of Fame passer is easy. Calling plays with an apprehensive youngster isn’t. If Hackett can get a Wilson-led offense to the playoffs, he’ll regain the respect he lost in Denver.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant, Anthony Grant, Amy Grant or Hugh Grant.