Antonio Pierce can talk that talk and walk that walk. We saw that when his Las Vegas Raiders opened a can of you know what against the Los Angeles Chargers two weeks ago. But with the Bolts sacrificing their inept head coach Brandon Staley, was the Silver & Black smackdown a mirage?
Spanking a team 63-21 after losing 3-0 the week before leaves the awful aftertaste of doubt. Pierce and his desert marauders left no doubt this past Monday, however.
The interim head coach and his ragamuffin Raiders rolled into Arrowhead and worked the Kansas City Chiefs 20-14 on Christmas Day. If owner Mark Davis had any lingering concerns regarding Pierce’s ascension to full-time head coach, there shouldn’t be anymore. He has a head coach who has given his players freedom and the group responded by playing a physical and dedicated brand of football that is very difficult to ignore. It’s punch them in the mouth, swashbuckling style that’s oozes of swagger and the results are there — the latest a victory in enemy territory against the AFC West taskmaster Chiefs.
Pierce likely knows he’s made the strongest case he can make to rid himself of the “interim” title, but he’s not letting it on — at all.
“It’s out of my control, out of their control. The only thing we can control is what we do on the grass and how it looks,” said Pierce when asked if the win in Kansas City helps bolster his chances to keep coaching his players as the head coach going forward during his Tuesday media availability. “And I’m going to keep saying it; as long as it looks right, sounds right and smells right, I’m fine with it. Win, lose or draw. And I’m going to be me, and they’re going to be them. And when this bad boy is over with, hopefully it all works out and we’re together for more years to come.”
A late December win in Kansas City definitely looks right, sounds right, and smells right. And as noted above, Pierce is every bit as demanding of a head coach as his predecessor. But unlike Josh McDaniels, Pierce isn’t uptight and a “my way is the only way” type. The proof is in the pudding. Like McDaniels, Pierce continuously stressed player execution. Unlike the former head coach, however, AP is giving his Raiders breathing room and flexibility to get to a point where execution is second nature.
Hence why the players want Pierce to get the gig.
Has Pierce been perfect after being thrust to the head spot? Not even close. But like he’s done with this players, Pierce is learning from the mistakes, working through them, and improving. As a supremely neophyte head honcho, he’s done in seven games what McDaniels talked about but couldn’t remotely get close to doing. Pierce’s 4-3 mark may not be a glimmering example of success, but considering the mess he inherited from McDaniels (and what interim general manager Champ Kelly received from previous GM Dave Ziegler), it’s a damn fine job.
Heading into the Week 16 matchup with the Chiefs, Pierce didn’t hold back any punches and made it abundantly clear what his team needed to do to win: Punch them in the mouth. That was big talk, but this past Monday. He double down on it during the halftime interview where he said his team needed to “squeeze them by their throat”. The Silver & Black backed it all up. And Pierce and the Raiders strutted out of Kansas City like Ric Flair hitting the Nature Boy strut.
“My resume is on the grass. What do you want? I can put up a fancy presentation, I’ve seen that before. I can put up stats, I can put up my resume, but the best thing that happened for me was an opportunity,” Pierce said. “I said this maybe last week, the worst day I was going to be as a head coach was my first day. And each day is my job and I really take pride in growing each and every day to get better. No different than when I was a player to get better. And by the end, you look at it, whatever your career was and whatever my coaching careers is, and you sit there and say, ‘Look, this is what he was.’
“And hopefully Mark Davis sees improvement and growth within our team. He sees the style and play that he wants from the Raiders. He sees a fan base that’s behind us. He sees a building that loves coming to work and loves being here. And people that’s covering the team, enjoying covering the team. And at the end of the day, we got to win. And right now, my record, our record is 4-3.”
Las Vegas is playing a physical brand of football that’s helped dwindle the team’s point differential to just -9 after weeks of being in the high double digits. There’s still plenty of work to do, of course. The job of a head coach is nary finished, even if they win a Super Bowl.
If Pierce lands the full-time role — Davis must commence a full search this offseason as per NFL rules and can’t simply remove the interim title — a magnifying glass will hover over whom ever has the reins of the Raiders offense. Like Pierce, Bo Hardegree is extremely green to the play calling game in the NFL and has his own stumbles and triumphs. Will defensive coordinator Patrick Graham remain as the defensive boss? The way he’s calling the Raiders defense merits Graham some looks as a head coaching candidate too, me thinks.
And what happens to all the McDaniels’ holdovers? All good questions, but for the offseason. Pierce noted he and his team are on to the Indianapolis Colts, an 8-7 team fighting for their own playoff lives.
“We’re 2-1 in the division. Beating those guys at home, how many times has that happened in the last 25 years with the Raiders? Does anybody know?,” Pierce said after beating the Chiefs. “Less than a hand full, so let’s go three. Most of those guys were gurus, not a defensive coach who never did it before, right? I did it a certain way, right? Did it our way, right? The Raiders way, right? He’ll figure that out.”
Once again, Davis is presented the opportunity to ascend the interim guy to the guy (Rich Bisaccia before Pierce). It’ll be interesting what the eventual decision is, but it’s without doubt, Pierce has earned it.