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Initial thoughts on Raiders hiring Antonio Pierce

Raiders keep their man

Denver Broncos v Las Vegas Raiders
Mark Davis, Antonio Pierce
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Las Vegas Raiders have hired Antonio Pierce as their head coach. Here are some early thoughts on the hiring:

Mark Davis listens to players, fans:

The locker room and fan base have been loudly pushing for Pierce to get the job and Davis listened to them. Pierce impressed the roster by the way he treated the team and because of his communication skills as he led the team to a 5-4 record after taking over for the fired Josh McDaniels. Fans loved how Pierce embraced being a Raider. His old-school approach is a perfect fit. Davis senses the fit was too good to pass up and resisted the urge of going for a splashier hire.

Pressure is on players:

Now, that the players got the man they wanted, they have to deliver. Led by star defensive end Maxx Crosby, who indicated he may ask to be traded if Pierce didn’t get the job, the focus is now on the roster. It has to win right away to show Davis he made the right call.

Staff changes?

There will surely be coaching changes, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo left for the New York Giants so there will definitely be one change and NFL Media reported Friday Pierce will upgrade from Bo Hardegree, who finished the season as the offensive coordinator. There is already a report that Pierce may target former Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury as offensive coordinator. Kingsbury though is interviewing for the OC job in Chicago. If he doesn’t get a head coaching job, expect Patrick Graham to return to Las Vegas. I would think most of the change will be on the offensive side of the ball.

The quarterback?

Now that the coaching job is secured, all attention will turn to the biggest question mark on the roster — who will be the Raiders’ quarterback? The team likely will look to upgrade from rookie Aidan O’Connell, who finished the season as the starter. They could try to trade for a veteran such as Chicago’s Justin Fields or move up in the drat from No. 13 to get the quarterback of the future. Expect a lot of speculation about Jayden Daniels. The Heisman Trophy winner was at Arizona State with Pierce and he attended the Raiders’ final game of the season. The quarterback talk will dominant the offseason in Las Vegas for the second straight year.

Not a big search:

It was clear Pierce was a heavy favorite. Davis was pretty much focused on him the whole time. The only two other candidates to interview, Leslie Frazier and Kris Richard, did not have jobs during the 2023 season. This is similar to when Mark Davis hired Jon Gruden six years ago. There wasn’t much of a search and Davis had his mind made up early. With Gruden, Davis followed his heart. With Pierce, Davis followed his locker room. If this doesn’t work, Davis will have to look in the mirror and see how he handled this search, which was basically dictated by the emotion of the locker room. It it works, all is good, though.

Las Vegas Raiders v Cincinnati Bengals
Rich Bisaccia
Photo by Perry Knotts/Getty Images

The Bisaccia affect:

Rich Bisaccia is probably shaking his head in Green Bay, where he is the Packers’ special teams coach. Davis probably learned from his mistake of not promoting Bisaccia from the interim job two years ago after he went 7-5 and led the team to the playoffs after the Jon Gruden fiasco. Still Davis hired McDaniels instead. It was a disaster. Clearly, Davis didn’t want to make the same mistake again.

Harbaugh looming?

There was a lot of conjecture that Davis wanted to hire a big fish such as Jim Harbaugh. He had tried to hire Harbaugh in the past. There is a chance Harbaugh ends up in the AFC West with the Los Angeles Chargers. That could get very interesting and it could give Davis nightmares for years or if Pierce is a success, a feeling of vindication.

Dan Campbell Part 2?

I think Pierce would be a Dan Campbell-like fit for the Raiders. They are similar. They are both former players who are beloved by their players and who are fiery. Campbell has completely turned around the culture in Detroit and Pierce now has a chance to do the same in Las Vegas.

He needs to grow:

Of course, he does. All inexperienced coaches do and that’s OK. Pierce, 45, is only in his third NFL season as a coach and prior to his nine games in 2023, his only head-coaching experience came at the high school level. There is a chance he will be in the same division with Andy Reid, Sean Payton and Harbaugh. Those are heavyweights. So Pierce’s learning curve has to come quickly. His in-game management and decision making will be a work in progress, but it has to be a focus as much as his communication and player relation skills are.

It’s no sure thing:

There is no doubt, Pierce rallied the team together and gave it a much-needed dose of belief. But the truth is the Raiders were just an above-average team under Pierce even though it had an favorable schedule. The Raiders were 1-2 in just three games against playoff teams and were 4-2 against non-playoff teams. They went 1-3 under Pierce against teams with winning records and 4-1 against teams with losing records. Six of the nine opponents Pierce’s teams faced were using backup quarterbacks against Las Vegas. This isn’t to downgrade Pierce, it’s just the facts. He changed the culture and was working with a rookie quarterback and he did go 3-1 in the AFC West. That’s impressive. The key moving forward will be how they fare against better teams and that’s the case with every coach.

Conclusion:

Pierce is deserving. Let’s see him take the team to next level.