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Raiders Week 18: The last hurrah?

Plenty of changes on the horizon for Las Vegas as choice at head coach will cause ripple effect

New York Jets v Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders interim head coach Antonio Pierce, foreground, and interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree, right background, have one final regular season game to put more on their respective resumes to potentially remove “interim” from their titles.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Patrick Graham began by saying how much fun he’s had coaching the Las Vegas Raiders defense and the immense sense of pride he has being part of the storied franchise.

So it was only natural the following question was how much does the defensive coordinator want to be part of the Silver & Black going forward.

And what Graham said to answer that during his early-week media availability as the Raiders prep for the regular season finale against the Denver Broncos shows the cold reality of the NFL. It is a business, after all.

“That stuff is out of my hands,” the defensive play caller began, “I mean, we got one more game together. Each season is so different with the NFL. This is the last time this group of players and coaches will be together intact, fully. We know that, regardless of what the situation is. So, the important thing is to stay in the present and just cherish this right now. And I promise you, I’m going to cherish every moment, every meeting. I’m going have fun with them.

“I’m going to correct them, I’m going to listen to their input, and then be at my best on Sunday to put them in the right spot and adjust throughout the game and just enjoy the last game with these guys. But enjoy the process too, that’s going to be important to me.”

It sounded like an early goodbye rather than a continuation, didn’t it? And for good reason. The eventual choice Raiders owner Mark Davis makes at the head coach spot (or at general manager who may be the one to pick the head honcho) will have a reverberating ripple effect on the rest of the coaching staff.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, right, has leaned heavily on the leadership from defensive end Maxx Crosby, left, and its showing in 2023.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Graham may stay on as the defensive coordinator or he may not. He may get some interviews for other head coaching gigs that will open across the league and get lured away.

Don’t discount that.

Even after a rough initial season with Las Vegas in 2022, what Graham has been able to do with this defense — one that’s has the second least amount of cap space allotted to it at slightly over $56 million — in 2023 certainly opened eyes. The performance merits at least an interview for a head coach vacancy.

Offensively, interim coordinator Bo Hardegree’s future is similarly influx — albeit for much difference reasons. Unlike his defensive counterpart, the neophyte play caller has performed as any other green coach would: Inconsistent.

There’s been glimpses of a competent offensive mind mixed in with moments of incompetence but that’s to be expected of a coach thrust into play calling duties while have zero experience in the pros doing so. As such, the opportunity to remain an offensive play caller or an upward trajectory for Hardegree differs vastly from Graham.

“Like I’ve told you from the start, I’ve definitely learned so much,” Hardegree said. “Incredible opportunity, dream come true. Something I want to do going forward. And definitely every time I call a play, I learn something new. But just going through the weekly process has been very, very beneficial to me.”

“Surprising? No. Because the way I kind of went into it was very unique,” he added when asked what’s been the most surprising aspect of the interim offensive coordinator role. “Just registering everything that has happened and going forward just kind of remembering those certain situations that I was in and taking those and growing from them moving forward.”

The Raiders will need plenty of growth from the offense going forward and Hardegree is unlikely to be the person tasked with that development. But it’s very difficult to have a definitive answer with so many unknowns in front of the Raiders.

Which leads us to interim head coach Antonio Pierce and by extension, interim general manager Champ Kelly. Pierce sits at 4-4 overall after taking over Josh McDaniels who was fired as Davis set his football team on a new course. Dave Ziegler was dismissed as general manager, too, and that put Kelly in the role has chief personnel man.

Las Vegas Raiders Announce Coaching Changes
Both Champ Kelly, left, and Antonio Pierce, right, were thrust into the interim general manger and head coach roles, respectively, this season after their predecessors were fired.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

This Sunday’s clash against an AFC West division foe in the Broncos dictates whether Pierce goes 5-4 or 4-5 in his interim stint. A firm believer in his resume being on the field, Pierce has done what he can to show he’s worthy of becoming the permanent head coach in Las Vegas — a 20-14 win in Arrowhead against the Kansas City Chiefs the shining beacon. Sunday’s result may not sway Davis’ decision — unless it’s an absolute stinker where the Raiders lose inside Allegiant Stadium to close out the 2023 campaign.

“Unless you plan on retiring and not playing in the NFL or coaching in the NFL, this is still on your resume. I think it’s no different at any level, right?,” Pierce noted. “You always look at the last four, five or six games of the season of how a team plays, how they’re coached, how that coach coached and vice versa. So, I think for us it’s very important, it’s still part of the process and evaluation.

“To be honest, I think our guys take pride in playing football. I think they love football. I think we have guys here that love football, I think we have coaches here that want to coach and see our guys win. It’s 2024, it’s a new year, it’s a great opportunity to go out with a bang at home. Get our fan base excited for what’s going to come in the future.”

Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams is firmly in Pierce’s corner and voiced his vote of confidence in the interim being the permanent choice.

“Yeah, I mean it’s obviously who I want, that’s my vote, and I’ve been vocal about that. That’s basically how the whole locker room feels, and with good reason,” Adams said during his Wednesday media session. “I mean, he’s come in and done a great job, and he’s continued to win us over. It’s not just the comfortable thing. I think having AP here will be a big deal for this organization. He kind of embodies what it means to be a Raider and that mentality, that swag, and all the things that he endorses is the things that I believe in. So, it’s easy for a guy like me, especially having dealt with him a little bit this year now and gotten to know him and see his evolution in front of the team and all those things, all the different feels of being head coach. So, definitely rooting for him.”

Again, the choice will be Davis’ — on the head coach or general manager, or both if he doesn’t name a permanent GM and allow that person to pick the permanent coach. And those decisions will the catalyst for the rest of the Raiders offseason — one that doesn’t mean it’s 100 percent guaranteed Graham or any other current coach is back if Pierce no longer has “interim” in his title.