HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Mark Davis could've waited to see if he could lure someone from an unusually deep roster of coaches on the open market to the Las Vegas Raiders.
And even though Antonio Pierce’s resume was relatively thin, the Raiders owner determined he had done enough since becoming the interim coach on Halloween night to get the job full time.
The Raiders announced Friday the hiring of Pierce as their new coach, crossing out the word “interim” in a post on X, the social platform formerly known as Twitter. He's the fourth interim coach the Raiders have elevated, joining Art Shell, Tom Cable and Marty Feldman.
Pierce, 45, took over as interim coach after Josh McDaniels was fired. The Raiders went 5-4 under his watch and the team went 8-9 overall.
“Can’t think of anyone more deserving,” Las Vegas tackle Jermaine Eluemunor posted on X. “The Raider way is the only way that needs to be in Vegas.”
That's despite Bill Belichick, Mike Vrabel and Pete Carroll being available, along with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh taking a few NFL interviews after leading the Wolverines to the college national championship
Davis hired from outside two years ago in going with McDaniels over player favorite Rich Bisaccia, who led the Raiders on an unlikely late run to make the playoffs.
Like with Bisaccia, Pierce had his players' backing early, but whether that convinced Davis to hire him was the question. So the players kept up the pressure, including star defensive end Maxx Crosby. On his podcast, “The Rush with Maxx Crosby,” he said this week that “nothing is off the table” on his end if Pierce isn't hired.
“AP doesn't have a bunch of experience as a head coach, but the reality is he's come in and helped change the culture," Crosby said on his podcast. “He's helped us win games, and he's helped our defense take off to a different level and our team in general. We're a few pieces away from being in contention. We all feel that. We feel like we should be playing this weekend (in the playoffs).”
Pierce also won over much of the fan base. The crowd chanted “AP!” as the clock wound down in the season-ending 27-14 victory over the Denver Broncos.
Pierce will be charged with restoring a championship pedigree that has three Vince Lombardi trophies to a once-iconic franchise that has missed the playoffs in 19 of the past 21 seasons.
NFL hiring rules prohibited Davis from hiring Pierce before going through a league-mandated process. Davis had to interview at least two external minority and/or female candidates in person to satisfy the Rooney rule. He did that.
The Raiders interviewed former Buffalo defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. ESPN reported the club also interviewed former New Orleans Saints co-defensive coordinator Kris Richard.
Pierce is the second Black coach to receive a head job during this hiring cycle. The New England Patriots promoted Jerod Mayo to replace Belichick.
The Raiders are the only NFL team with a Black coach, general manager and president. The GM, however, is an interim in Champ Kelly, though he also could get the job full time. Kelly has long been considered a strong candidate to get the position, but the fact he wasn’t announced along with Pierce’s hire raises questions.
Davis told The Athletic he has thought about about hiring a director of football operations, so it’s possible he is reorganizing the front office that could still include Kelly.
Pierce will have to make decisions regarding his staff, and it's most likely he will take a close look at his offense. Bo Hardegree became the interim offensive coordinator when Mick Lombardi was fired at midseason, but it's possible and maybe even likely Pierce goes outside the organization for the OC.
Beyond that, Pierce will have to work with whoever becomes the general manager on personnel issues, including what to do at quarterback. Pierce installed rookie Aidan O’Connell as the starter. He improved as the season progressed, but didn’t erase concerns about the need for a franchise quarterback. The Raiders pick 13th in this year’s draft, so the top QBs likely will be gone by the time they select.
The future of running back Josh Jacobs also will need to be resolved. After leading the NFL in rushing in 2022, Jacobs got into a contract dispute after the Raiders placed the franchise tag on him. The sides agreed to a one-year deal after training camp. Jacobs’ production dropped from 1,653 yards to 805 this season and he missed the final month because of a quadriceps injury.
AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi contributed to this report.
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