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Raiders interim coach Antonio Pierce: ‘I was born for this’

Former linebacker coach brings intensity to new role

NFL: New England Patriots at Las Vegas Raiders
Antonio Pierce
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The best attributes an interim coach can bring to his team is attitude and energy.

Based on his initial press conference, new Las Vegas Raiders interim coach Antonio Pierce fits his new position well.

Pierce and interim general manager Champ Kelly spoke to the media Wednesday afternoon after owner Mark Davis’ sudden decision to fire head coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler late Tuesday night.

“It’s a new day, a new era and a new chapter,” an intense Pierce said. “I’m humbled. I’m honored and don’t take that lightly.”

Pierce, 45, said he grew up following the Los Angeles Raiders in nearby Compton. “I was born for this,” he said.

One of the reasons why Davis reportedly went with Pierce over defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and senior defensive assistant Rob Ryan was how much players on both sides of the ball gravitated to Pierce during his two seasons as linebackers coach.

Pierce was an NFL linebacker who was a key member of the New York Giants’ 2007 Super Bowl championship team. The Raiders host the Giants in Sunday’s in Pierce’s debut as a head coach. He’s excited about that, but he said this game is about his team not him.

“I’m a former player,” he said. “I touch players ... They’re going to feel me. I need to feel them.”

The Raiders, of course, had success under interim coach Rich Bisaccia in 2021 after Jon Gruden resigned. They were 3-2 at the change and finished 10-7 and made the playoffs under the fiery Bisaccia who was a player’s coach. Pierce said some players mentioned that experience in a team meeting Wednesday.

Pierce said he could feel a different “aura” in the locker room the past two weeks when the team lost lopsided road games at Chicago and Detroit. He said it wasn’t his place to address it, but he felt it.

He and Kelly stressed that they will focus the rest of the season on having fun, communication, energy and culture. All of those things were fading under McDaniels.

Both Pierce and Kelly, though were supportive and thankful of their time with McDaniels.

Pierce said rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell is now the starting quarterback because they feel he gives them a better chance to win than former starter Jimmy Garoppolo.

Neither Pierce nor Kelly wanted to focus on the possibility of keeping the job next year. They are simply focusing on day-to-day trying to improve the 3-5 squad.

Pierce, who was the associate head coach at Arizona State in 2020-21 and the head coach at Long Beach Poly High School from 2014-17, said his personality will be reflected by the team.

“It’s funny how a little belief and confidence can bring a group together,” Pierce said.

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