Having been around football his entire life, new Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett may be encroaching that 10,000 hour mark if he hasn't eclipsed it already. The 33-year old is young by NFL standards for being in the position that he finds himself today, but Hackett has found a home in football locker rooms for the past 25 years.
Perhaps that's why it was a bit surprising to learn that Hackett didn't have designs on the profession when he was going through college.
"Oh I didn't want to be a coach. I was actually studying neurobiology. I wanted to be a doctor," Hackett said.
His father is long-time NFL coach Paul Hackett, which caused the initial double-take upon learning that coaching wasn't what he originally intended to get in to. Was it just too much football throughout his life?
"I played football in college, I loved playing it. I loved playing football, but I think I saw all the things my dad went through," the Bills offensive coordinator continued. "I was in a locker room since I was 8. I was able to be around the guys, the guys took care of me -- I was like the kid on the family. I just grew around the team, it's all I know. I didn't realize that. I think at the time it was 'Oh gosh, Dad, it's up and down. This business is crazy. We're moving all the time.'"
When he got finished with his rather impressive degree though, Hackett stood at a fork in the road.
"When it kind of got to that point, do you continue forth with the medical pursuit? I was very thankful that I graduated with a neurobiology degree, but at the same time I think it was, 'Ok, do I want to be on the field and around the same guys I grew up with? Or do I want to enter this new spectrum of a different atmosphere?' It just kind of hit me. I'm too wild and crazy for this stuff. I gotta get on the field."
From that decision, Hackett said he got his first real opportunity through being recommended by someone to Stanford University. That was back in 2003, a mere ten years ago. It was then that he got the itch.
"When I was at Stanford that first year, I fell in love with it," Hackett said. "I fell in love with coaching, I fell in love with the grind, living out of your car. Sitting there and drawing, and doing play books, and learning. I played defense and I went to offense, so it was a whole new world for me breaking things down. I totally fell in love with it. From then, here I am now. I never would have thought it."
Despite the age factor, Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone knew that Hackett was his guy, and that he would be coming along for the NFL ride with him. Marrone confirmed that he interviewed no one else for the offensive coordinator position with the team.
"No, I knew right away that if this was the situation, Nathaniel was the one I wanted to be with," the head coach said.
"It's a great opportunity. I'm so honored, and I know how lucky I am," said the youthful Hackett. "If he believes in me, that gives me all the confidence I need. It's so exciting to be able to be here, and have this opportunity and make the best of it like we did the past three years."
His age is often questioned, but that may be part of the new look the franchise is going for with most of their hires in 2013. Hackett will joke that his hair makes him look as though he's in his sixties, but his approach to coaching is far from that age range.
"I'm a very energetic person," he started off, "If you're not enjoying life, why live? I think this is a really hard job. It's one of the hardest jobs in the world for the hours, the time spent, and the risk, the reward. If you don't enjoy it every second, it's not worth it. I think that's one thing that my dad did a great job at. He loved being around young people. He was 50 years old listening to rap music. He always wanted to expand his horizon. I grew up that way learning that's how you're supposed to be. That's why we do this, to be around young people. To learn from them and we get to teach them. I think that's the best part about football. So you've gotta enjoy every second of it, and if you don't, it's a rough profession to be in."
So what kind of coach will Hackett be? If he had his way, he'd encapsulate everything he's been a part of and mold it in to an offense that is unique.
"I want to be a historian. I never want to sit back and say 'Ok, this is what I am, this is all I know.' I think it's so critical to study everything," Hackett remarked. "Just like getting your Ph.D. in anything you're going to do, you have to keep studying. I love technology. I'm a geek at heart. I have lots of computers and the ability with video, and the ability to capture things and be able to watch things. Just all the stuff that Coach Gruden taught me. All the old school stuff he had, from the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay, my dad's 1984 cutups from the Super Bowl.
"The more you know the better you can teach. And that's what I am, I'm a teacher of football. And I want to be able to always spread that knowledge and give that to other people. That's what I do. That's what I do all the time. Try to better myself."
As far as Outliers is concerned, Hackett said he hasn't read it just yet. However, his wife did buy it for him. Perhaps, more than he knows, his story could fit the mold of precisely what Gladwell wrote about in 2008.
*Photo courtesy of BuffaloBills.com