The Denver Broncos made a move that basically the entire football world saw coming on Monday, relieving head coach Nathaniel Hackett of his duties.
The Broncos fired Hackett following a 51-14 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. In addition to the worst loss the team suffered in a decade, the Broncos had teammates arguing on the sideline and another throwing a punch following the game.
The Broncos stumbled right out of the gate this season. Hackett’s in-game adjustments and ability to properly manage time and game situations were almost immediately called into question, leading to his hiring someone to help him with those aspects. Later in the season, he gave up play-calling duties.
But the team never got better and on Sunday, there was minimal effort all over the field as the 4-10 Rams looked like Super Bowl contenders as they went up and down the field on the Broncos.
All of that led to the dismissal of Hackett, who became just the fourth head coach in NFL history to be fired during his first year as the team’s coach.
Here, we will look at that short list of failed coaches. This list will not include any first-year coaches who were fired after the season or first-year coaches who resigned during their first year, such as the Atlanta Falcons’ miserable hire of Bobby Petrino.
Looking at this list, you will see just how rare it is for this to happen and sadly, just how bad Hackett was in this role.
First-year NFL head coaches fired during the season
John Whelchel, Washington: 1949
The very first instance of a first-year head coach being fired during year one came nearly 75 years ago and it came under much different circumstances than it would in today’s league.
In 1948, Washington owner George Preston Marshall decided that the team needed to move on from head coach Turk Edwards. But he didn’t turn to a name already in the coaching world, he instead looked outside the league for a new kind of leader.
That led to the hire of John Whelchel, who was on active duty with the Navy.
A midshipman in European water during WWI, Whelchel would later go on to coach the Navy football team before being transferred to the Pacific aboard the USS San Francisco. He would command that ship during the Battle of Okinawa and be later awarded the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star Medal.
When he was approached to coach Washington in 1949, he was given permission to retire from the Navy after 33 years of service. But his new career would last just seven games.
Marshall was looking for a leader that would instill discipline in his football team and though the players really enjoyed Whelchel, he wasn’t ready for the on-field aspect at the professional level and that quickly became clear.
Whelchel was told he was being let go before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Washington won that game 27-14.