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Greg Penner stops short of guaranteeing a full season for Nathaniel Hackett

Mike Florio and Peter King react to Denver Broncos general manager George Paton's comments regarding Russell Wilson and Nathaniel Hackett.

In one breath, Broncos CEO Greg Penner seemed to pour water on the notion that coach Nathaniel Hackett could be fired during his first season on the job. In the next breath, that liquid became gasoline -- and Penner was preparing to strike a match.

I support Nathaniel and really want to see him succeed,’’ Penner said Friday in London, via Mike Klis of “He’s a first-time head coach. There’s a lot of new things to get in place. He and I talk every week, and I love talking with him about the game. He’s incredibly passionate. But he knows we’re not performing at the level we expect, but we’ve got high expectations for him in the second half.’’

This clearly implies that Hackett will be coaching the second half of the season. Which clearly implies that he won’t be fired if the Broncos lose to the Jaguars on Sunday and fall to 2-6.

But then Penner expressly was asked whether this means Hackett will keep his job through Week 18.

“We’re never going to go into those kind of things,’’ Penner replied. “I’m supportive of Nathaniel, and we really want him to succeed. As you guys know, this is a week-to-week sport. So we’re always evaluating things, and our goal is to win as many games in the second half as we can.”

Uh. Oh.

Penner isn’t stupid. He’s sending a message. And the message is that anything can happen, that nothing is guaranteed.

Hackett has struggled through seven games. Complicating matters for Hackett is that other first-year, first-rime head coaches are doing better than Hackett -- Giants coach Brian Daboll (6-1), Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell (5-1), Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel (4-3), and Bears coach Matt Eberflus (3-4).

Many coordinators fail as head coaches. New ownership in Denver didn’t hire Hackett. They can easily afford the buyout. The only unknown is whether they’d be sufficiently ruthless to fire a head coach whom they didn’t hire during his first season.

Penner had a clear vance to say “no,” and he didn’t. Which means that, quite possibly, the answer is “yes.”