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Thread: Hackett's Heartache

  1. #1
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    Apr 2003
    Miami, Fl
    Hackett's heartache

    Embattled Jets coach lives with pain
    of father's cold-blooded murder


    Paul Hackett
    End Zone

    Hackett. The name has been on the lips of New York football fans for four years - in most cases, curled lips. Whenever and wherever the Jets are spoken of, the name is sure to be mentioned. You can hear it in radio rants, and you can read it in venom-laced Weblogs and in the newspapers. With a name like Hackett, he's a headline writer's dream. ("Jets Can't Hack-it.")

    As you know, the full name is Paul Hackett, and his stormy reign as the Jets' offensive coordinator is coming to an end. Barring a sudden change of heart, coach Herm Edwards is expected to fire Hackett, whom he has known for more than three decades, once the season ends.

    For four years, Hackett has been measured by numbers - scoring averages, offensive rankings and red-zone percentages. Maybe that isn't right, but he rarely reveals his personal side. Even some of his players don't know much about him other than name, rank and number of plays in his voluminous game plans.

    "Hackett is a guy, if you got to know him, you'd be totally surprised," says Curtis Martin, who also played for him at Pitt and knows the bespectacled coach better than anyone on the team.

    Would you be surprised to know that Hackett is a rock-and-roll aficionado who collects old juke boxes and starts every Saturday-morning quarterback meeting with a music trivia contest?

    Would you be surprised to know that he collects miniature wooden boats and fine wine? Or that he's a lifelong Red Sox fan who used to accompany his father to Fenway Park and buy seats in left field just so they could be near Ted Williams? Or that his father, David Powell Hackett, was an internationally renown biochemist who studied and taught at some of the world's finest institutions?

    Would you be surprised to know that Hackett has lived his entire adult life coping with an unspeakable tragedy and an unsolved mystery that surely would haunt the soul of any decent man?

    * * *

    On Jan. 21, 1965, Hackett's father was murdered near the California-Berkeley campus, where he worked as a biochemistry professor. He was 39. Paul was 17, the oldest of four children.

    For weeks, the story captivated the Bay Area - a "cold-blooded robbery and murder," Capt. Walter Trawick, of the Contra Costa County Sheriff's department, said at the time. It had all the elements of front-page news:

    A brilliant professor, admired by colleagues and beloved by students, is gruesomely killed one night on his way home from the office. No murder weapon is found. A suspect is arrested, but there isn't enough evidence for a grand jury to indict him.

    An active investigation continues for a year, producing nothing concrete.

    Now, almost 40 years later, they still don't have the killer.

    "We know who did it, but we couldn't prove it," John Nejedly, 90, the former Contra Costa County District Attorney, says. "It's one of those cases that came to a blank end, and there's nothing that could develop that will change that - unless there's a confession."

    Once the initial wave of publicity subsided, the tragedy has remained a virtual family secret. Some close to Hackett say he never has mentioned it. He declined to be interviewed for this story.

    Based on newspaper accounts of the event, this is what happened:

    On Jan. 21, at about 5:30 p.m., David Hackett left his office to return home for a family birthday party. He never made it. His body was found by a highway patrolman at 12:40 a.m., on a remote road side near Buchanan Field Airport, about 17 miles from his home in Orinda.

    Hackett, discovered with his glasses clenched in his left hand, was bludgeoned and shot twice in the head. His wallet, containing less than $30, was taken from his left rear pocket, turned inside out. His car, a yellow 1949 Plymouth convertible, was missing at the scene.

    The evidence pointed to signs of a struggle in the car. Police surmised that Hackett was pushed out of the passenger door and shot twice as he lay defenseless on the ground. Both 9 mm bullets were found imbedded in the ground, shell casings near the body.

    Authorities said the bullets came from a Walther P-38 pistol, a rare semi-automatic weapon used by German military officers in World War II. Police arrested Nicolas Kaell, a 29-year-old graduate student at Berkeley, after FBI agents discovered he had purchased the P-38 and ammunition from a mail-order firm in Virginia.

    Kaell, a student in one of Hackett's biochemistry classes, was painted by the newspapers as a disgruntled pupil, struggling in the class. The murder occurred on the eve of the final exam.

    When police searched Kaell's apartment, located across the street from the biochemistry building, they discovered airport maps of the area near Buchanan Field, where the body was found. Turns out that Kaell was a member of the university's flying club, which may have explained the maps.

    Police continued to build a case, noting that Kaell lived only three blocks from where Hackett's car was discovered in a public parking lot. Also, several hours after the murder, Kaell checked into a local hospital as an outpatient. The 265-pound suspect suffered from a heart condition, which apparently flared up in the wee hours.

    * * *

    Despite the overwhelming grief that gripped the tightly-knit family, Paul, still in high school, summoned enough composure to give a touching comment to the Oakland Tribune. Addressing the rumor that his father may have been killed by a hitchhiker, he told the newspaper, "Dad used to hitch rides himself when he was a kid at college, so he probably would've picked one up. He would've given anyone the shirt off his back."

    Authorities combed the murder scene for two days and interviewed more than 100 people. The sheriff's office stretched its investigation to Luxembourg, Kaell's native country, where his family home was searched.

    In the end, they still had no murder weapon and no solid motive. A grand jury heard testimony from 19 witnesses, but voted not to indict. After a week in jail, Kaell was freed.

    "We couldn't produce any more evidence than we had, and the grand jury didn't think it was enough," Nejedly says. "We never had a witness. We had very little." Asked about the family's reaction to the grand jury's decision, Nejedly says, "The wife was very forceful about the case and she was properly disappointed when he wasn't charged."

    Sarah Hackett, now living outside Boston, couldn't be reached for comment. A voice on her answering machine says she has "returned to Haiti," where she spends considerable time, a family member says.

    The Berkeley campus was stunned by the murder. After all, David Hackett had been a rising star in the world of academia. His father was the treasurer of Kobe College in Japan, and Hackett was the valedictorian of his class at Vermont and received a Ph.D. from Harvard. He traveled the world, studying at King's College in London and speaking once at a biochemical seminar in Moscow. At the time of his death, he was planning a trip to Japan - his birthplace - to appear at a symposium. He was going to spend the summer in France, studying under a famous scientist.

    In a memorial on its Web site, the Cal-Berkeley faculty praised Hackett as "a lucid and dynamic speaker . . . an outstanding teacher who possessed the gift to impart carefully integrated information."

    His son, Paul, has been described the same way. The memorial unwittingly captured another father-son similarity, noting, "Hackett's analytical and critical mind caused him to demand of his students . . . uncompromising precision."

    That is one of Paul's greatest strengths as a coach. Or his biggest flaws, his detractors say. Either way, it's easy to see that he's teaching the West Coast offense the way his dad taught plant respiration. "It makes me understand how and why Hackett is so meticulous," Martin says.

    David Hackett devoted his life to electrons and enzymes. His son picked Xs and Os. Edwards could see Hackett as a professor.

    "Absolutely, no doubt about it," he says. "He's very, very smart."

    Hackett's father did have a passion for sports, but an attack of tuberculosis in college forced him to spend a year in a sanitarium, causing him to focus on intellectual pursuits. Paul caught the sports bug and, in nine seasons as an NFL coordinator, he has seven post-season appearances on his resume.

    Under Hackett, the Jets have produced a league-leading passer (Chad Pennington, 2002) and a leading rusher (Martin, 2004), but they haven't maintained enough consistency to satisfy Edwards - or the fans. Some of his own players want him gone, too. One starter declined comment for this story, claiming he didn't want to say anything - positive or negative - about Hackett.

    If David Hackett's son gets a pink slip, he will move on to the next challenge, exactly what he has been doing since that tragic night in 1965. He understands there's more to life than football and statistics. To him, the most important number is two.

    Paul Hackett has two sons. Nathaniel, an aspiring coach, is an assistant in the Stanford football program. His oldest son is named David, and he has a boy.

    His name is David.

    Originally published on January 9, 2005

  2. #2
    All League
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    he wants to keep his job!!!!


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