Denver Broncos Team Development: The Powerful Polarization of Positivity

Denver Broncos, Nathaniel Hackett, Russell Wilson - Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Denver Broncos, Nathaniel Hackett, Russell Wilson - Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

From the moment Denver Broncos General Manager George Paton introduced Coach Nathaniel Hackett in his inaugural press conference, one thing became abundantly clear – your Denver Broncos were shifting colors and heading into entirely different waters with respect to team culture.

Gone are the days of disciplinarian-minded curmudgeons; enter the age of hip and affable friend-parents – you know, the ones whose houses you always wanted to go to as a kid because they seemed more concerned with whether or not you thought they were ‘cool’ than about order and discipline? The impact of Paton’s philosophical transition among the coaching staff carried with it a certain measure of seismic activity to be sure, but in a vacuum, most would have agreed that the changes consummated on January 28th of this year were both necessary and positive.

In the moment, while a few voices within Broncos Country – both media and fan base – were vocal about their preferences for a different candidate, most were quick to embrace the openness, approachability, and overwhelming positivity of Nathaniel Hackett and his Band of Merry (if not slightly inexperienced) Men. On-field videos of Coach Hackett began to circulate virally across Broncos Country social media, excitedly highlighting his very personal and engaging teaching style and outright celebrating his energetic interaction with players during his prior stops.

This over-the-top fervor and passion was something that Broncos Country hadn’t seen since… well… maybe we’d never seen it if we’re honest.

From February to March, excitement about this new and very excitable direction reached and maintained a low boil. Recognizing that this philosophical change among the team’s faculty was only part of the battle, however, many in Broncos Country wisely hedged their optimism, waiting to see how George Paton would deliver on his unspoken promise to right the ship at the quarterback position. And then it happened – Paton struck what nearly every rational fan would have considered to be solid gold in 9x Pro-Bowler and Super Bowl Champion Russell Wilson.

But just like we’d witnessed with the addition of Coach Hackett, Russ brought something a little extra to go along with his impeccable pigskin pedigree – an overwhelming sense of vibrant positivity and interpersonal energy, every bit as awkwardly contagious as that levied by Hackett. But for the first time since 2015, the key pieces were all believed to be in place to finally pass out of the darkness and into the light – and there was great jubilation in all of Broncos Country…for all of six months.

Denver Broncos: A Perfectly Positive Storm

Now for those who’ve joined me on this journalistic journey from the outset, you’ll know two things about what I’ve cast out there for others to enjoy, oppose, or perhaps even enjoy opposing – I tend to lean into the positive things in life, and I have a deep fascination with the people part of the game. I love to pour over what makes a person, a team, and an organization tick.

Naturally, with a team that’s experiencing as much planned and unplanned change as the Denver Broncos, we’ve had ample opportunity to dissect the stories behind the stories in order to offer a slightly different perspective on where the Broncos find themselves as an organization. With that in mind, let’s take a minute to follow just one common thread that seems to be plaguing those on the periphery of the team, and perhaps some within the team, as well – positivity.

No need to adjust your screens – I meant it exactly as I typed it. As a staunch advocate of positivity, I’ll spend the next few minutes painting a picture of what I believe to be a perfectly brewed storm forming in the skies above Dove Valley, specifically, and in the virtual skies above Broncos Country in a more general sense.

You may notice in looking back over the last few paragraphs that I’ve expended quite a few characters in order to highlight some very specific traits and characteristics of the two most significant off-season additions to the Denver Broncos Family. Positivity and energy. Now, make no mistake about the analysis you’re about to review – I will not be disparaging the God-given traits of these men.

Positivity and energy are absolutely essential components of any highly effective team, and I would even argue that these traits can sometimes be the difference between a very pedestrian leader and a transcendent leader. What I will spend a few moments deliberating, though, is the polarizing nature of these two common traits, and the conditions required in order for them to be adopted successfully by the team.

Shots Fired: An Assault on Authenticity

By now, you’ve more than likely watched the outraged diatribe of NFL Network’s Kyle Brandt on Good Morning Football. If you have not, I would recommend you take a few minutes to hear him out, as I suspect his expressions are shared by many in Broncos Country following last week’s disappointing overtime loss to the Indianapolis Colts – a game I’d love to have been able to call ‘The Peyton Bowl,’ but out of respect for the football greatness of Peyton, I cannot bring myself to do so. Balance is important, and as such, I believe it important to hear Kyle (and your fellow enraged Broncos Fans) out, but I believe we should all take exception with one portion of his statement:

"“I think Russell Wilson is one of the least authentic personalities we have in this league. I think Russell Wilson is a poser. And that doesn’t mean he’s a bad person; actually he’s a good person. I think he tries to be something that he’s not. And when you make the $245 million, you either gotta be a really great guy with a locker room who loves you, or you gotta be an amazing player.”"

Why should this bother us? Because it is personal and makes assumptions about the motives of a man, based on external observations or perceptions. Now, is Kyle’s perspective just as valid as any of our perspectives? For sure, and his assumptions are both as founded and unfounded as any of our perspectives about the internal motives of a man or woman in whose shoes we’ve never walked.

There are those, whose paths will intertwine with ours, who see life through a lens we can’t fathom. The densities and prescriptions of our lives’ lenses are crafted through years of endlessly unique experiences, trials, and triumphs – how then can we presume to know the authenticity of a person’s approach unless we’ve invested in them, allowed them to invest in us, or come alongside them in the battles of life?

I’ll answer that, for any in need of a response – we cannot. No, the truth surrounding our reactions to those we find most vexing in life (and particularly true of those who vex us without having earned that right through personal transgression) has been articulated most perfectly in a quote attributed to Denzel Washington:

"“Some people will never like you because your spirit irritates their demons.”"

As it happens, I believe Paton has found himself two pivotal leaders whose natures tend to stir up the demons in others, so let’s examine that for a moment. When a person is unable to fathom the nature of another, it’s often determined that the most ‘logical’ explanation for their cynicism is that the blame must lie with the curious ‘abnormality’ of the other. We may employ simple phrases such as “too good to be true,” “phony,” or “inauthentic,” rather than leaving open the possibility that this person is truly looking at life through an entirely different lens – a lens that vexes and perplexes us because it challenges us to conduct an evaluation of our own attitudes and worldviews.

In that light, I would offer this – believe the best. Let’s stick to the team-building and football implications of the Positivity Firm of Wilson & Hackett, rather than leaping to the gargantuan assumption that the characteristics these men bring to the table are inauthentic. So, let’s start with the assumption that the traits they’ve shown us do, in fact, reflect exactly who they are in reality.

The Positivity Firm of Hackett & Wilson: From Positivity to Production

If we’re to believe that this unnatural energy and positivity are genuine and that they are in fact a few of the same traits we found so endearing and exciting when these gentlemen first rode into Broncos Country, then why are these same traits beginning to incite such disgust five weeks into a relatively unresolved season? Here’s what I’ve got to offer – positivity without production breeds resentment.

If a leader maintains a positive and encouraging outlook while standing in the ankle-deep waters of a compromised vessel, the difference between delusional and inspirational is determined by what he or she does next…

As a leader that leans into positivity, myself, and having myself assumed multiple positions of leadership over teams that have already been formed to a large extent, I can tell you that both Wilson and Hackett (apart from the millions they can apply as salve to their wounds) are in an unenviable position. If your bent is positivity, but you have yet to prove yourself through ‘on-field’ performance, you’ve got a lot of ground to cover before your message of positivity evolves into genuine credibility.

Whether we’re discussing football, industry, or family, legitimate trust is not earned through words or outstanding motivational speeches, it is forged in the fires of tribulation and solidified when a leader demonstrates to the team that he or she is able to maintain that positivity – while joining them in the trenches and carrying the same cross of performance that he or she has asked of others.

As genuine as the message and messenger might be, it will be action – the positive leader’s ability to be relied upon in battle – that will make the difference between the message of positivity falling on rocky soil and the message taking root in fertile soil. Follow that action with a willingness to hold one’s self accountable, and in time, a leader will earn the right for his or her message to be heard.

Ultimately, when the team has experienced for themselves a leader whose message aligns with his or her actions, the leader will be entrusted with the transformational ability to confront team members who are failing to meet the standard that he or she is viewed as embodying so well. Please understand this – this is a process, and there is no way to microwave the development of trust.

Denver Broncos: A Belief Rewarded

Let me begin to land the plane with this – I still believe. I believe in Nathaniel Hackett. I absolutely believe in this Defense – if they can stay healthy, they are legitimately special. I believe in George Paton. I believe in this amazing corps of young players. And yes, I believe in Russell Wilson – although I’m admittedly less interested in talking about ‘Riding’ and much more interested in actually ‘Riding.’

But I’ll leave you with this – there will be those within the team and within Broncos Country who will more readily embrace the awkwardly positive message of Hackett & Wilson, but genuine adoption will require one very significant ingredient if these embattled leaders are to earn the trust of both Team & Country – performance.



As a moderate and self-proclaimed representative of positivity in Broncos Country, I offer you this humble and balanced message from the masses – a message that’s been filtered significantly to reduce the heat and venom within the Broncos Twitterverse, while endeavoring to maintain the integrity of the message at its core:

Let’s put feet to the positivity. A promise (no matter how positively or energetically it is delivered) will no longer do.