The departure of offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo is the first (big) domino to fall. And the Las Vegas Raiders would be wise to knock down the rest and rid the team of remnants of the former regime from the offensive coaching staff.
Let’s cut to the chase: A paramount task for just minted permanent head coach Antonio Pierce is an overhaul of the Silver & Black offense. It’s a necessity, not a nice to have.
And that entails a clean and sweep at the offensive coordinator position.
The former play caller and head coach, Josh McDaniels, is gone. His offensive coordinator, Mick Lombardi, ousted, too. And in came neophyte play caller Bo Hardegree (promoted from quarterbacks coach) as interim OC. Unsurprisingly, the rookie play caller had mixed results.
This isn’t an absolute slight on Hardegree, however.
The 39-year-old was thrust into play calling duties and the bumps and bruises from his nine game excursion as the interim offensive coordinator were to be expected. Especially with rookie fourth-round quarterback Aidan O’Connell elevated as starter. The combo of two newcomers to their respective roles as play and signal caller — arguably the two most important spots on offense — isn’t ideal, but that’s the circumstance both Hardegree and O’Connell were placed in when Raiders owner Mark Davis made the call to wax the trio of McDaniels, Lombardi, and general manager Dave Ziegler.
There was improvement in Las Vegas offense when the keys were turned over to both Hardegree and O’Connell. That’s can’t be denied. In the eight games McDaniels was at the helm, the Raiders scored 126 total points. Take away cornerback Marcus Peters’ pick six, and the offense generated 119 of that sum — or 14.87 points under McDaniels’ guidance. In Las Vegas final nine games, the team scored a total of 206 points. That drops to 185 if you take away cornerback Jack Jones’ two interception returns for a touchdown and defensive tackle John Jenkins’ 44-yard scoop and score. And that’s an average of 20.55 points under Hardegree’s watch.
Of course, that sum and average is boosted tremendously by a team-record 63-point outburst against a Los Angeles Chargers squad that threw up the white flag and put alleged “defensive genius” head coach Brandon Staley out in the public square in full view as being in charge of that debacle. It pretty much evens out when you add in the fact Hardgree’s offense was thoroughly stymied by Brian Flores’ Minnesota Vikings defense in that barnburner (sarcasm) of a 3-0 ball game the Silver & Black lost.
The Raiders were content going through the obvious growing pains of going with Hardegree and O’Connell this past season. The team showed that it had no other choice but to go with the duo after the dismissal of the former regime.
But that shouldn’t be the case in 2024.
First task for #Raiders coach Antonio Pierce: Address the offensive side of the ball, as most coaches won't be retained.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 19, 2024
Interim OC Bo Hardegree leaves Las Vegas with plenty of play-calling experience, helping this offense and its young QB thrive late this season. Now available.
Las Vegas is afforded the opportunity to engage a course correction for an offense that finished 23rd in the league in points scored (332) and 27th in yard gained (4,922).
Pierce and the eventual general manager (it could be interim GM Champ Kelly ascending to the permanent role) must assemble a group of coaches on the offensive side of the ball that can lift the offense and create a more complementary style of football.
That’s a steep mountain to climb considering the Raiders are no bastions of that.
You have to go back to the 1999-2002 renditions of the Silver & Black to find consistent complementary football (all three aspects of the game: offense, defense, and special teams all working in unison). Seems once Bill Callahan dropped the “dumbest team in America” about his 2003 Raiders, positive consistency has been fleeting for the Silver & Black.
That means ridding the Raiders of the predictable and telegraphed nature of what Hardegree and McDaniels before him, brought to the table.
Surely, there will be growing pains. If Pierce is picked as the head honcho, he’ll be given the opportunity to bring in offensive minds of his own liking and of similar philosophy. Part of the mystique that Pierce brings to the table is his reverence of the old-school nature of the Raiders: A physical group that will knock you ‘round and upside down, and laugh when they’ve conquered and won.
While there were glimpses of that under McDaniels and Hardegree, it was fleeting and inconsistent. If Pierce is intent on bringing the punch you in the mouth mentality the defense had to the offense as well, he’ll need someone other than Hardegree to led that charge.
The lack of conviction is something Las Vegas can’t repeat next season, especially in an AFC West that is perhaps nearing more of a competitive nature rather than having the Kansas City Chiefs as the clear-cut favorites. The Chargers and Raiders embark on new regime searches and those hires, along with Sean Payton’s work with his Denver Broncos may close the gap that was Grand Canyon wide between the Chiefs and the rest of the AFC West.
Not only will the offensive coordinator have the keys to the offense, the next head coach must find a quarterback coach who can develop O’Connell and any other signal callers the team brings in. And the new offensive line coach — that replaces Bricillo who is now with the New York Giants — will set the tone and teach the big uglies up front — which is the lifeblood of any NFL offense. Then comes the personnel decisions such as running back Josh Jacobs and wide receivers Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow.
The job isn’t going to be easy. But what gig is, in the NFL?