As head coach of the Oakland Raiders, John Madden had a lot of pressures in addition to preparing his team for the next battle against an opponent on the field. As a member of the Raiders front office in the mid 1970’s, I served Madden in my first year with the team as his practice field secretary and was selected, in my first year with the team, as the person to sit with him on our flights to away games in the front two seats that faced each other on our United Airlines chartered flights.
Of course, as a young staff member, I thought it was an honor to sit with the head coach. I soon learned the seat across from Madden was where one would have the best view of his fear of flying. In the years that followed, I did that for all the seasons I was with the team, I knew my job was to assure him that the bumps taking off were standard, and the sounds a few minutes later were not the plane coming apart but simply the retraction of the landing gear. When we hit air turbulence during a flight, Madden’s knuckles would turn white as he gripped the arm rests while I assured him that the common occurrence was not a precursor to a fiery crash.
Airline flights were not the only added pressure Madden endured as head coach of the Silver and Black. His boss, Al Davis, often was more credited with the team’s success than their head coach and when the Raiders failed, the blame often was assigned to Madden. This dynamic caused Madden to be more defensive than he would become after his coaching years and while making a name for himself as one of the most honored broadcasters in NFL history.
It is with respect for Madden, and every man who steps into a head coaching role in the NFL, that I caution myself to not haphazardly criticize these men who put their livelihoods on the line every week in an environment that keeps score. Madden used to say, when frustrated by some results that were negative, “Everybody knows my results. How about doing the same for doctors or lawyers? You know, when you go to hire a lawyer his cases won and lost are posted on his front door, same for a doctor, total number of patients and number of people that died under his care!”
They do keep score for all to see in the National Football League, and sometimes a coach is just dealt a bad hand. That is the case this year for Lovie Smith, head coach of the woeful Houston Texans, who have only one win in 2022. But other coaches, and there are four of them this year, stand out as inept while leading talented rosters to horrible seasons.
How they prepare their teams for game battles is something for their front offices to evaluate. I’m privy only to what I can see when their teams perform and some game-day decisions from the sidelines that are indefensible in postgame interviews.
Denver Broncos Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett appears overmatched by his role as head coach. This is a man from a strong football pedigree, his father, Paul, was a respected assistant coach for 23 seasons in the NFL. Nathaniel was a proven commodity while serving in an assistant role.
Yet, as the man in charge, Hackett has made more mistakes than a blind man challenging Whack-A-Mole at the carnaval. He has thrown away what appeared to be a solid roster with a proven quarterback acquired during the offseason from the Seattle Seahawks. Russell Wilson was supposed to be the final piece of a championship puzzle for the Broncos. There was good reason to think this.
Denver, under the direction of former head coach Vic Fangio, who came to the Broncos in 2020 after serving as the Chicago Bears defensive coordinator, offered one of the best stop units in the game while anemic offensive play led to a two year career mark in Denver for Fangio of 12-20. With Wilson aboard, and a proven defense, Hackett was brought on to take the Broncos over the hill.
Instead, Hackett has led Denver off the cliff.
If he isn’t removed from his position as the Broncos head coach at season end he must have dirty pictures and be holding the Broncos management hostage.
When things are going bad, they can get worse for a team struggling like Denver. And that is in the offing this week when they host AFC West Division rival Kansas City. The Chiefs lost their hold on the number one seed for the playoffs when they suffered a loss last week in Cincinnati. It was the Chiefs third loss to the Bengals in this calendar year, and one that will no doubt serve to inspire their play this week.
Maybe, just maybe, if the Chiefs had won last week they could have arrived in the Mile High City in less of a surly mood. But that defeat, coupled with their primary competition for the top spot in the AFC playoffs, the Buffalo Bills Week 13 victory over the New England Patriots, puts this game in the must win category for Andy Reid’s squad.
Which is more bad news for Hackett … as if he needed any additional weight on his shoulders as his one-and-done career as an NFL head coach winds down.
Qoxhi Picks: Kansas City Chiefs (-9½) over Denver Broncos