Transforming the Las Vegas Raiders defense from Achilles heel to unquestioned strength within the course of season. No wonder defensive coordinator Patrick Graham garnered interest from other teams looking for a new head coach.
The 45-year-old defensive specialist has one interview for a team’s top coaching spot already under his belt — with the Los Angeles Chargers. And the Silver & Black received another request to interview Graham, this time from the Seattle Seahawks, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.
The #Seahawks requested an interview with #Raiders DC Patrick Graham for their head coaching job, per source.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) January 16, 2024
It’s the second HC request in this cycle for Graham, who already interviewed with the #Chargers.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Well, perhaps the only thing mildly astounding is a division foe like the Bolts, wanting to pick Graham’s brain for their gig. But what he did for the Raiders merits attention.
Graham orchestrated quite the turnaround in Las Vegas from his initial season calling plays in 2022 to his second year in 2023. The Ivy League coach cooked up a defense which finished in the top 10 in points allowed (ninth with 331 yielded for an average of 19.47 points per game) and 15th in yards yielded (5,625 total for an average of 330.8 yards per contest). That point total is the Raiders’ best since the 2002 season (304 and sixth overall) where the team went to and lost the Super Bowl to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The yardage, on the other hand, is tops since the fluke 2006 season where Oakland allowed 4,557 yards (third least).
Transforming a habitually bad defense into a respectable unit is a minor miracle, to say the least. But it’s Graham’s ability to mold his scheme to best suit the roster that’s most endearing. He’s not a rigid my way-type coach. Graham adjusts his philosophy and play calling to put his defenders in the best possible position to succeed. That is beyond the Xs and Os stuff and relating to and understanding his individual players.
Also, it’s in Graham’s best interest to partake in interviews for the head coach spot with other teams. While many will question the legitimacy of Graham’s candidacy for head coaching gigs, there are only 32 such jobs in existence. The interview experience, too, is quite valuable for Graham as he now knows what they are like. It’s unclear what his future aspirations are — he’s still under contract as Raiders defensive boss — but if his career trajectory is helming his own team one day, interviewing is a great first step.
The interest in Graham is a boon for Las Vegas.
It’s tangible proof a difference was made from 2022 to 2023 and other teams are taking notice. Being coveted by the other 31 teams isn’t something that can be often said of Raiders’ defensive coaches.
Yet, Graham having an interview with the Chargers and the upcoming talk with the Seahawks doesn’t necessarily mean Graham won’t be the Raiders defensive coordinator in 2024. While Las Vegas reportedly aren’t blocking current coaches from exploring other opportunities, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the team did block a request from a team seeking to talk to Graham about its defensive coordinator gig. The Raiders aren’t allowing lateral interviews, only promotional.
#Raiders respected DC Patrick Graham received a request to interview for a defensive coordinator job, source said, which was blocked by Las Vegas. The Raiders likely will allow the new head coach a decision on inherited staff members.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 10, 2024
And Graham spoke very highly of the Raiders’ most recent 2023 campaign.
“I told the guys the other day — and I’m not going to get emotional, I promise you that — but I’ve had the most fun this year coaching this group of players that I had my whole career, plain and simple,” Graham said during his media session before the Raiders’ regular season finale against the Denver Broncos. “Not taking anything away from the guys I’ve coached before, but their growth, how they’ve improved, how they embraced myself and the coaches, the turmoil that we faced, and how they laid out there on the line for us. Starting with our leader, Maxx (Crosby). From him to the rookie that has the least amount of playing time. I’ve had a lot of fun.
“I have a lot of fun seeing them go out there and win games, lose games and try their best, and try to do what I’m asking them to do, learn from their mistakes. Again, it’s just been a real fun year. I mean, I’ve been proud to be part of the Raiders.”
Time will tell if Graham remains the defensive play caller for Las Vegas this season. It’s trending that way, though. The Raiders completed the Rooney Rule requirements by having in-person interviews with two minority candidates in Kris Richards and Leslie Frazier and the team is free to hire a head coach and general manager. Signs point to Antonio Pierce landing the full-time role as head man while Champ Kelly takes reins as the permanent GM. And unless either the Chargers, Seahawks, or another team interview and make an offer to Graham, he’s likely to captain the Silver & Black defense once more.
And it’s another opportunity for Graham to put something on his resume — for better or worse.