Not many NFL teams hire 33-year-old offensive coordinators. Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone appears set to do that with Nate Hackett - and while the risk is significant, the rewards could be much more so.
In a move that has not yet been announced as official, Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone appears set to hire his Syracuse Orange offensive coordinator, Nate Hackett, to the same posting on his new coaching staff in Orchard Park. Hackett, 33, is the son of long-time NFL and college offensive coordinator Paul Hackett - but beyond that, his name is something of an enigma to NFL fans.
What you need to know: despite an alarming lack of experience (he was an offensive quality control assistant in the NFL for four years - including two in Buffalo under Dick Jauron - before heading to Syracuse in 2010), Hackett is viewed as an up-and-coming coach in the business. After leaving Buffalo to become Marrone's quarterbacks coach, he almost instantaneously earned the right to call plays - a duty he and Marrone shared in 2010, when Marrone was still his own offensive coordinator.
Hackett became the full-time offensive coordinator for Syracuse in 2011, and is best known for the work he did this past season. Shortly before games were to be played, he and Marrone re-tooled Syracuse's offense to be a simplified, no-huddle and up-tempo attack that featured elements of the Bills' old K-Gun offense, which Hackett dabbled in while in Buffalo working under Alex Van Pelt.
What Marrone and Hackett created was an offense not dissimilar to the one that the New Orleans Saints run under Sean Payton. (In fact, Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib has said publicly, "... our playbook is basically theirs.") It fuses a pro-style passing attack based in West Coast principles with spread formations, designed read-option plays and the aforementioned tempo adjustment. The results were impressive: Nassib burst onto the scene as one of the hottest quarterback prospects in the nation (3,749 yards at 8.0 yards per attempt, 26 touchdowns and just 10 picks), Syracuse averaged 36 points per game in their final seven games, and the Orange averaged 476 yards of offense per game - 187 of those on the ground.
Now, Marrone is bringing Hackett - and probably that offense they designed, which fits a lot of Buffalo's skill players (chiefly C.J. Spiller, despite his propensity to get winded) very well - to Orchard Park. It might be premature to say that the K-Gun is back in Buffalo, but it's not out of the realm of possibility. What's more, the Bills - instead of hiring a coach that's been knee-deep in NFL customs for years - are gambling on a young coach that's proven he can change a system on the fly and grasps emerging concepts. That's not dissimilar to the allure of pursuing a coach like Chip Kelly, who is 16 years Hackett's senior.
Make no mistake about it: hiring a 33-year-old play caller is a major risk, particularly when said play-caller has such insignificant pro experience. Marrone, however, will likely remain heavily involved in the implementation of the offense, so it's not just Hackett's show. Marrone has hired an emerging coaching talent with whom he has already established an excellent working relationship, and whose offense happens to fit the skill set of his new team. The risk is substantial, but the rewards are even more so.