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Raiders Offseason: On the offensive

Taking stock of the offensive coordinator candidates and who fits best

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns
Former Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt is slated to interview for the same position with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

“Minimum of 24 points.” That’s the immediate response Las Vegas Raiders head coach Antonio Pierce provided when asked what he and general manager Tom Telesco are looking for in an offensive coordinator.

Pierce, naturally, laughed after saying that, as did the media room during the press conference on Wednesday afternoon that introduced Pierce and Telesco as the new Silver & Black brain trust. While owner Mark Davis’ new dynamic duo have plenty of work to do to attain the goal of winning the AFC West and hoisting the Lombardi Trophy one day, one of the first big lifts for the pair is hiring a new offensive play caller.

Interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree, and a good portion of the offensive staff, are slated to move on and finding a new OC is atop Pierce’s and Telesco’s to-do list. Pierce did provide more insight on what he wants from a play caller — after his initial playful jab. So did Telesco.

Las Vegas Raiders Introduce Antonio Pierce As Head Coach, Tom Telesco As General Manager
New Las Vegas Raiders general manager Tom Telesco, left, and head coach Antonio Pierce, smile as they answer questions during their introductory press conference on Wednesday.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Pierce noted the offensive coordinator must be a teacher who can get players a

ttention and buy-in and be able to adjust on the fly in today’s NFL. And the style of offense will vary as do the defenses in the league. But there are fundamental Raider tenets, too.

“But you know what you see in the National Football League. You’ve got to be able to run the football, play action pass. What are the Raiders known for? The vertical passing game, right? We want to see the shots down the field. We want the explosive plays,” Pierce said. “That has to be a part of the creativity. You look at the shifts, the motions, all that stuff goes into it. I’m not going to give my whole hat away and tip, but just think of when Raiders were playing really good football, and that’s going to be your offensive coordinator hopefully as we go forward.”

Telesco is of similar mindset, showing a glimpse of the synergy he is going to have with Pierce in what Davis called a “partnership”.

“One thing I talked about in the interview is you want to have an identity. The Raiders have an identity on offense. It’s speed and get the ball downfield. I think that’s going to definitely want to be at least part of that,” the new GM noted. “But there’s more that goes along with that as far as being able to run the ball when you have to run it and play action pass. But we’ll find the right offensive coordinator that’s going to fit this team at this time.”

Las Vegas has reportedly gone on the offensive to find a new play caller by requesting and scheduling interviews with a number of candidates. Let’s take a look and see who fits best:

The known candidates:

Zac Robinson, Los Angeles Rams. A 37-year-old who doesn’t have a bevy of play-calling experience but comes from the vaunted Sean McVay coaching tree. The former NFL quarterback is the passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach in L.A. and can relate to signal callers at the pro level. Robinson also had a hand in the Rams’ passing attack that ranked 10th in total yards while veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford had a renaissance year. Steeped in the McVay style, Robinson has the potential to be the run, play action, deep shot style play caller Las Vegas is seeking.

  • Luke Getsy, Chicago Bears. If running the ball is the primary directive, the 39-year-old Getsy is a ground-game truther. Point to quarterback Justin Fields’ ability to run with the football all you like, but Getsy got production out of his running backs, too as the Bears offense ranked second in attempts and yards this past season and second an first in both categories in 2022. The area of concern is passing attacks under Getsy’s watch haven’t been anything more than middling. Which likely resulted in Getsy no longer being Chicago’s play caller and troublesome for a team that wants to dial up play action or take deep shots.
  • Alex Van Pelt, Cleveland Browns. A former backup QB in the NFL turned long-time assistant coach, the 53-year-old doesn’t have a heavy background in play calling. He’s been a quarterback coach with the Buffalo Bills (2008-09) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2010-11), Green Bay Packers (2014-17), and Cincinnati Bengals (2018-19) before becoming the offensive coordinator in Cleveland (2020-23, and in name only). So it’s difficult to discern what his philosophy is. But he did get to see the K-Gun offense when he was a quarterback for the Buffalo Bills and other styles during his coaching circuit.
  • Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh Steelers. A well-traveled 56-year-old who most recently was thrust into the play caller role in Pittsburgh, Sullivan has spent time coaching on both defense and offense. He did serve as the offensive coordinator for the Bucs (2012-13) and New York Giants (2016-17) that featured good quarterback, running back, and wide receiver production. The Steelers ground game did finish ninth and 13th in attempts and yards this season while the air attack ranked 29th and 25th in the same categories.
  • Kliff Kingsbury, USC. The Trojans’ senior offensive analyst and quarterbacks coach is on the NFL interview circuit for offensive coordinator roles. The 44-year-old is a pass-heavy and spread offense-type coach but did showcase a reliance on rushing production during his first couple of seasons as Arizona Cardinals head coach. Orchestrating an offense hasn’t been an issue for Kingsbury and he appears to be one of those coaches that is better coordinator than head man.
  • Thad Lewis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Las Vegas requested to interview the 36-year-old quarterback coach and it’s unclear what gig the Raiders intend for him, but Lewis paired with another hot coaching commodity, Dave Canales, to get the best out of quarterback Baker Mayfield this season. Lewis has a link to LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels — who in turn has links to both Pierce and Marvin Lewis (expected to be on Pierces staff in some capacity).

Outside the box: The NFL tends to go to the familiarity and connection well a lot and there’s one particular name that has ties to Lewis that also has a Raider background: Hue Jackson. The former Grambling State head coach has left and come back to Lewis’ coaching staff throughout the years and has a reputation as sound offensive mind.