Mark Davis regretted passing on interim HC Rich Bisaccia two years ago. The owner is not going to let Antonio Pierce go. The Raiders and Pierce are finalizing an agreement for the linebackers coach-turned-interim leader to become the franchise’s full-time head coach, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports. A deal is now in place, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports.
Pierce’s experience level will make this one of the most shocking HC ascensions in modern NFL history, but Raiders players — in an effort Maxx Crosby spearheaded — lobbied for Davis to elevate Pierce to the full-time role. The former Super Bowl-winning linebacker was viewed as the favorite following Crosby’s threat at requesting a trade in the event the Raiders went in another direction; Pierce is now on the doorstep of making a major climb. This probably goes without saying in light of Friday’s developments, but SI.com’s Albert Breer notes Davis placed a premium on his players’ views of the matter this time around. Per his X account, Crosby appears excited about this decision.
Pierce, 45, will become the first interim HC moved to a permanent post since the Jaguars removed Doug Marrone‘s interim tag in 2017. Teams passing on an interim leader in order to hire a flashier option has been the modern NFL norm, and far more experienced options compared to Pierce — Bisaccia included — have come and gone. While Davis greenlighting a former Josh McDaniels assistant to take over less than three months after he pulled the plug on the McDaniels era 1 1/2 seasons in, Pierce went 5-4 as interim HC and became wildly popular with Raider players.
Other teams had noticed Pierce as well. The Falcons and Titans sent out interview requests; the then-temporary Raiders leader interviewed with the Titans virtually last week. As the interest escalated, the Raiders are making one of the bolder HC moves in NFL history.
A GM will now need to be hired, and interim leader Champ Kelly having sat in on HC interviews points to the Raiders giving strong consideration to keeping their end-of-season setup in place. Though, other candidates will need to be interviewed to comply with the Rooney Rule. Colts assistant GM Ed Dodds is viewed as a threat to Kelly’s grip on the job, with the Raiders not viewing Kelly-Pierce as a package deal. Kelly is believed to be meeting with Raiders brass today, CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson tweets. The Raiders have already met with Kelly twice during this cycle.
Pierce’s former Giants head coach, Tom Coughlin, is set to help his ex-pupil assemble a staff, NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo tweets. Coughlin was among the coaches who helped Pierce once the Raiders made him interim HC. One name who is expected to be on Pierce’s next Raiders staff: Marvin Lewis. The former Bengals HC, who coached with Pierce at Arizona State and joined Coughlin and Adam Gase in helping the unseasoned leader during the season, is on track to be a Las Vegas full-timer, NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero tweets.
Pierce is less than two years removed from resigning from his co-defensive coordinator post at Arizona State amid an NCAA recruiting investigation. He spent four years with the Sun Devils, moving to the co-DC role in 2020, before McDaniels brought him aboard as Raiders linebackers coach shortly after his Arizona exit. As recently as 2017, Pierce was the head coach of Long Beach Poly High.
That said, Pierce’s coaching experience does not trail new Patriots HC Jerod Mayo‘s by too much. While Mayo has been viewed as the Bill Belichick heir apparent for at least two years, he only began work as a full-time Patriots staffer in 2019. This HC hiring period has featured 2000s and 2010s linebackers take starring roles.
Still, Davis passing on at least interviewing higher-profile coaching options — considering those now available — is rather surprising. The Raiders’ search committee only met with ex-Bills DC Leslie Frazier and former Seahawks and Saints DC Kris Richard. Those two meetings satisfied the Rooney Rule. Although Pierce is also Black, this process reminds of when Davis went through with only Rooney Rule interviews as he brought back Jon Gruden in 2018. The Raiders will pass on efforts to interview Belichick, ex-Oakland assistant Jim Harbaugh and Mike Vrabel. While a Raiders Harbaugh push was rumored, Pierce quickly seized the lead here.
As Pierce takes the unusual route of rising to a head coach position without being a college head coach or an NFL coordinator, he will be assembling a new staff. Most of Pierce’s offensive staff will not be retained, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports. The Raiders fired OC Mick Lombardi soon after they canned McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler on November 1, installing Bo Hardegree as their offensive play-caller. Hardegree is among the staffers not expected to stay in Las Vegas, per Rapoport. Considering Pierce was elevated to the interim job instead of DC Patrick Graham, it would surprise if the latter stayed on as well.
Momentum crested for Pierce to be hired after the Raiders upended the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Christmas Day. That came just after the team bashed the Chargers, leading them to fire their HC-GM combo, in a 63-21 rout. Behind Pierce and Graham, the Raiders finished in the top half of the league in scoring defense for the first time since the 2002 Super Bowl season. Graham’s unit ranked ninth, which came after Vegas’ 2022 defense finished 26th.
The team finished 8-9 despite Aidan O’Connell largely struggling in his second-half audition; the team ranked 23rd in points scored and 27th in total offense. The Raiders’ to-be-determined GM should be expected to make a genuine quarterback pursuit.
The Raiders undeniably turned their operation around following McDaniels’ ouster, though this will be a gamble due to Pierce’s limited experience. Pierce grew up a Raider fan in Los Angeles, and Davis is believed to have appreciated the young leader’s grasp of the team’s culture and history. While Davis was connected to taking another big swing for the HC gig, his past two — Gruden and McDaniels — did not succeed. The Raiders have just two winning seasons since Super Bowl XXXVII; Pierce will be tasked with turning the operation around. With Davis giving McDaniels and Ziegler less than two years — after signing the pair to six-year contracts — it is worth monitoring how long of a leash Pierce will have.
As for Lewis, he has been out of the NFL since the Bengals fired him following the 2018 season. The former Super Bowl-winning DC has not been an NFL assistant since 2002, coaching the Bengals for 16 seasons. Lewis’ longevity made him a somewhat divisive figure during that stint, as playoff losses mounted, but he has interviewed for NFL HC jobs in the years since his Cincinnati dismissal. Lewis, 65, looks likely to be one of Pierce’s top aides for the 2024 season.