Nathaniel Hackett: A Coach And Teacher Wise Beyond His Years

Every year for more than a decade I’ve tried to temper my expectations and enthusiasm about an upcoming Bills football season. And of course every year I fail at some point, usually midway through training camp. Despite my best effort, I’m proud to announce I’ve failed once again.

(Photo by JAMIE GERMANO, Rochester D&C)
(Photo by JAMIE GERMANO, Rochester D&C)

However, after listening to Nathaniel Hackett talk with John Murphy on Tuesday evening, this might be the only feeling I have left in common with how I have felt about previous Bills teams in the preseason. I tried really hard to keep from putting on those rose-colored camp glasses this year, but after listening to this particular interview, those glasses are firmly in place and not likely to go anywhere anytime soon.

As Bills fans, we have been yearning for coaches who are as passionate as we are about our beloved football team. Most fans have probably read about the incredible energy level Nathaniel Hackett displays on the field (and off). It’s palpable all the way to Wyoming!

As a fan base, we have great appreciation for quotable material since the days of “Marvisms.” While my favorite Chan Gailey quote was “this is a tough gayme for tough payple,” trying to sort through the gems that Nathaniel Hackett throws around is proving to be a challenge. What a welcome change!

It wasn’t long ago that Josh McDaniels was the toast of New England as Belichick’s wunderkind. For years I have longed for that kind of genius to show up at Ralph Wilson Stadium. I’ve carried a fair amount of envy regarding the Patriots* creative environment. They continue to be the franchise that has dominated because they have the “IT” factor. They have dictated the fate of the AFC East since the start of the new millennium.

However, I believe the winds of change off Lake Erie this fall are going to blow in a whole new attitude at Ralph Wilson Stadium. I hope the fan base is prepared for what they are about to see and take care of their voices for game days. I firmly believe that we may hear The Ralph at fever pitch in a way that has not happened there since the ‘Glory Teams’ of the 90s. Win or lose, the place will be electric.

Nathaniel Hackett is big reason why, and my, my, MY what a glorious study in behavior and performance he is for this old psychobabblist! Someone on Twitter this week asked me what he said that tripped my “Nathaniel Hackett: OMG!!!” tweet. There is no way a person could describe this man in less than 140 characters. I could write a book based upon what I’ve seen from him since he was introduced as the Bills offensive coordinator.

Why am I all aflutter about Nathaniel Hackett? First of all, his coaching style is a reflection of his own learning style, as well as personality. One of the basic concepts we know from educational psychology is that people often learn from one dominant sense organ; either auditory, visual, or kinesthetic (feeling). Though most people have a mixture of all three styles, one style/sense tends to dominate over others regarding how we learn.

Most people have a dominant auditory/visual learning style, which means that their predominant sense organ in learning comes from what they hear, as well as what they see. That’s why the prevailing way of teaching in the past came from a lecture-based format. We’ve since learned that isn’t always the best method if it doesn’t fit the predominant learning style of the student. We now know the “seeing, doing, teaching” method is often a better model for learning.

Nathaniel Hackett has what cognitive psychologists would consider a strong kinesthetic component regarding his particular learning style. This also reflects how he teaches (we often teach the way we learn). How do I know this based upon limited observation? The way you can identify how information is processed by various sense organs is often revealed in the language a person uses when they are talking about any particular subject matter.

Let me try to explain this by example. When you listen to the words Nathaniel Hackett used in his interview with John Murphy, he kept referring to the word “feeling.” When asked about why the team started out so slow against the Colts in the first few drives of the game last Sunday, he talked about how the team just needed to get into the “FEEL the flow.” He talked about players getting into the “rhythm” of the offense.

Another example happened when Nate discussed how he manages to convey his presence to players from calling plays up in the booth instead of on the sideline. His response was very interesting from a psychobabble perspective.

He said that because he FEELS prepared on game day, things actually slow down for him on game day. He said he hoped players could “FEEL me with them down on the field while they are playing”. The frequent references to “feeling” demonstrates a strong kinesthetic learning (and teaching) style.

Football, and all sports for that matter are all about developing the right FEEL for the game. That special ‘touch’ a QB has to have when he throws the ball is all about kinesthetic learning. Teaching players how to tap into their kinesthetic sensory input could prove to be a huge factor in their performance. This is especially true for rookies who are like sponges trying to absorb everything they can do to make the 53 man roster.

Nathaniel Hackett does so much more than teach the x’s and o’s of his offense. He is completely tuned in to the psyche of his players, and has a real grasp of how important it is to infuse confidence.

Furthermore, he understands how each player may be motivated in a unique manner. He adjusts his coaching and teaching style to meet the needs of each player on offense. I’ve read a lot of commentary from fans and analysts about how well prepared this young team is in spite of the their inexperience. I believe a great part of why this is the case is due to the way Nathaniel Hackett incorporates his understanding each player’s mental make up and unique style of learning.

Next week I’ll take this one step further and examine how the differences in personality types between Hackett, Pettine and Marrone are juxtaposed in such a manner that could prove to be very interesting this season. Creating proper team chemistry requires that they balance one another to create a new culture and identity for the Buffalo Bills.

For the first time in many years, there is a sense that this coaching staff might be able to finally pull the Buffalo Bills out of the basement in the AFC East. A significant factor in how fast this team develops not only involves improving the chemistry between players, but coaches as well.

About Robyn Mundy

Robyn Mundy is Editor-in-Chief of the BillsMafia blog at She's a retired oncology nurse & psychotherapist who loves to write about her life-long passion for the Buffalo Bills, and occasionally something of clinical or social relevance. Robyn lives with her husband Gary and their dogs in the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. Robyn is also a proud founding sponsor. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynMundyWYO.

One Reply to “Nathaniel Hackett: A Coach And Teacher Wise Beyond His Years”

  1. Wyo, loved the first paragraph. I’m right there with ya. Been resisting it as long as I could but these coaches have completely won me over. (And there are some really better-than-decent players on this team, too: CJ, Stevie, Stephon… apparently most of our LBs!?)

    Go new-attitude-from-the-young-motivated-coaching-staff Bills!