Hackett and Wilson proving that nice guys do in fact finish last

Oct 21, 2022, 10:27 AM
Nathaniel Hackett and Russell Wislon...
(Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)
(Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

“Nice guys finish last.” It’s become a cliche for a reason; it typically rings true.

That’s not necessarily a good thing. It might make a lot of people uncomfortable. That’s probably something a lot of us wish wasn’t the case. In a lot of ways, it’s a pessimistic, semi-negative outlook on life.

But that’s just the way it is. That’s reality.

In any competitive endeavor, this tends to be the case. From sports and business to dating and trying to get the final toy off the shelf of Christmas Eve, the “nicer” person in the battle tends to wind up on the short end of the stick.

It was true in 1946 when Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher first uttered it (his original quotes was, “The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place,” referring to the rival New York Giants clubhouse) and it’s still true today. Why? Because more often than not, winning requires the process of doing some unpleasant things.

This doesn’t mean cheating. It doesn’t equate to being underhanded or sneaky. It doesn’t include being a terrible person who treats others badly.

But it does mean doing things that aren’t always fun. It equates to saying the necessary truths. It includes sometimes being “the bad guy.”

It’s hard to find a championship team that doesn’t have someone who fills that role. It’s why typically speaking, title-winning franchises are led by type-A personalities. They run a tight ship, keep things on track and hold people accountable.

The Avalanche certainly have those people in place. Jared Bednar is a nice guy, but the head coach doesn’t put up with any nonsense. Nathan MacKinnon is a great player and good dude, but he doesn’t let his teammates slack off. Gabriel Landeskog can party like a rockstar at the victory parade, but Colorado’s captain doesn’t suffer fools.

The 2015 Broncos were the same way. Gary Kubiak comes across as an awe-shucks guy, but the head coach was so “my way or the highway” that he forced Peyton Manning to play within his system, not the other way around. Speaking of Manning, he’s an easygoing guy, but the quarterback never had a problem getting after a teammate (or scoreboard operator) who didn’t do things the right way. And on defense, Denver had plenty of players who demanded teammates play up to their standards.

None of those people are “bad guys.” They’re all upstanding members of the community. They’d all be great to have dinner with or sit next to on an airplane. But they also aren’t “nice” all the time.

Contrast that to the current Broncos.

Nathaniel Hackett is positive to a fault. The head coach sees the bright side of everything. Even when his team is struggling, he’s dazzled by the beautiful Colorado weather.

That might be a healthy perspective on life, but it’s not one that tends to lead a winning football team. Instead, it’s an approach that often leads to an undisciplined, underachieving, out-of-control mess.

Does that sound familiar? Denver is 2-4, they’re the most-penalized team in the NFL and they don’t seem to know what they’re doing at any given moment in a game. They’re the opposite of a “tight ship.”

The Broncos look like almost every other team that has been guided by a “players’ coach” during the history of the league. They all unravel at some point.

Meanwhile, the game’s all-time great leaders tend to be task masters. Bill Belichick. Vince Lombardi. Don Shula. Jimmy Johnson. Mike Shanahan. Almost every other Super Bowl winner.

How would any of those coaches have handled Melvin Gordon this week? The Broncos much-maligned running back was benched in the second half of Monday night’s game against the Chargers, after rushing for eight yards on three carries. His replacement, Latavius Murray, played well, putting up 66 yards on 15 carries. Gordon was seen pouting on the sidelines during the game and complained to reporters in the locker room after the loss.

This was just the latest chapter in the running back’s saga in Denver. Gordon has had fumbling issues, off-the-field problems and other lowlights during his two-plus seasons with the Broncos.

How did Hackett address this situation? He named Gordon the starter for Sunday against the Jets.

Um, what?

Clearly, the head coach isn’t capable of being the bad guy. He’s obviously too nice to make the tough calls, to send the necessary messages.

That being the case, the Broncos need someone else to do it. They need their best players, their team leaders to wear the black hat.

The most-likely candidate to fill that role is Russell Wilson. After all, he’s the quarterback; he plays the most-important position on the team. Plus, he’s the quarter-billion-dollar man, having just inked a monstrous contract extension.

But a few things are preventing that from happening. For one, Wilson is new to Denver; he doesn’t have any cache in the locker room. In addition, he’s not playing well; it’s hard for someone who is missing wide-open wide receivers and throwing game-turning interceptions to challenge his teammates.

In addition, Wilson is too nice of a guy. He’s not someone who barks at teammates like Tom Brady, Manning or other QBs have been seen doing. He’s an encourager. Like his head coach, Wilson is an overly optimistic person; he has a hard time with negativity.

That’s why he doesn’t jump on Jerry Jeudy when the wideout quits on a rout against the Chargers. It’s why he doesn’t chastise his offensive line when they fail to pick up a blitz and he gets drilled. He’s more of a “let’s get it right next time” kind of leader.

Like Hackett, that’s probably a healthy outlook on life. It keeps the ulcers at bay and prevents regrettable moments. But it also fails to provide leadership.

Sometimes, a leader has to deliver an unpleasant message. Sometimes, they have to be the bearer of bad news. Sometimes, they have to point out that something isn’t good enough.

If they don’t, the organization becomes rudderless. Devoid of anyone to keep it on track, the team, business, club or group wanders aimlessly off course.

Such is the case with the Broncos. That’s why they’re 2-4 and boast the worst offense in the NFL.

A good leader would’ve told Gordon that he’s on the bench, sitting because he hasn’t played well and his replacement performed better.

A good leader would’ve told Jerry Jeudy that he’s not getting another ball thrown his way if he keeps quitting on routes.

A good leader wouldn’t have allowed Montrell Washington the chance to muff a third punt in two games.

In other words, a good leader wouldn’t always do the “nice” thing.

“Nice guys finish last” doesn’t mean that only raving maniacs can win. It doesn’t suggest that tyrants and jerks are the only people who can come out on top.

It does indicate, however, that people who are incapable of occasionally being the bad guy, leaders who put being liked ahead of doing what’s right, are destined to fail. That’s a style that ultimately leads to a mess; it’s one that doesn’t garner respect.

Ask any successful person who impacted their life the most and there will be a common theme. There will be a leader – a teacher, a coach, a boss – who was demanding, who pushed them to do more than they thought possible, that helped them reach their potential. Often, they’ll talk about disliking that person at the time, but ultimately coming to the realization that they were exactly what they needed.

The 1980 U.S. hockey team “hated” Herb Brooks. Plenty of Apple employees were “scared” of Steve Jobs. Umpteen players have been on the Patriots and not loved every moment with Belichick.

But those leaders got the most of out their people. They pushed them to their limits by demanding excellence, by holding people accountable.

Nice guys don’t build empires. They don’t change the world. They don’t win championships.

That’s the reality. And it’s why the Broncos, a team currently led by two people who want to “hug it out” instead of hash it out, are headed in the wrong direction.



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Hackett and Wilson proving that nice guys do in fact finish last