Wide receiver Davante Adams had a big smile on his face as he hit a sick stepback jumper on the new mini-basketball hoop that now hangs between the offensive line and running back section of the Raiders’ locker room.
It was a subtle yet significant change that was one sign of a far more relaxed atmosphere Thursday after the first practice since Josh McDaniels was fired as head coach and replaced by interim coach Antonio Pierce.
“Don’t get it confused,” Adams said. “It’s not a celebration that we have a new coach, and there were changes made. I think it was time one way or another for some sort of change just to bring a little juice and revitalize the team a little bit.”
Whether that will lead to a turnaround in results won’t be known until at least Sunday when the Raiders play their first game under Pierce against the Giants at Allegiant Stadium, but there was no doubt the coaching move has changed the mood and energy.
“There’s just a different energy obviously that you have and the team has anytime there’s change, whether it’s good or bad,” wide receiver Hunter Renfrow said. “I think (Pierce) alluded to the fact it’s fun when, I think what he said is he’s on a leash, but when you have expectations but there’s nothing to lose. So let’s go out there and have a great time. Play hard and play fast, and we’ll be OK.”
Obviously, some sort of change was necessary. The Raiders aren’t out of the playoff race at 3-5, but the offense has struggled mightily and, perhaps more important, the culture has been deteriorating.
There was a meeting last week that several players referred to as an open forum with McDaniels in which several players spoke up.
Multiple players said they preferred to keep the substance of that discussion private, but there had been optimism coming out of it that progress had been made.
“It was very productive because guys said what they felt, and some guys took accountability,” cornerback Amik Robertson said. “I know I took it as productive because people expressed their feelings, and at the end of the day, it’s a good thing to be able to feel like you can express your opinion.”
While it might have allowed some to get things off their chest, the meeting didn’t produce anything in terms of results. The Raiders had another disappointing offensive effort on “Monday Night Football” in Detroit in a 26-14 loss.
That led to a series of meetings between owner Mark Davis and some team leaders Tuesday, from which Davis came away with the impression it was time to move on from McDaniels.
Adams spoke highly of McDaniels and former general manager Dave Ziegler on Thursday, particularly for facilitating the trade that brought Adams to the Raiders and giving him a massive new contract. He said he was disappointed they didn’t have more success.
“It didn’t end up being the storybook finish we all hoped it would be,” Adams said.
Adams and star defensive end Maxx Crosby expressed appreciation to the organization for allowing their opinions to be expressed.
“I just want to win, and that’s really all that matters,” said Crosby, who believes a positive locker room environment is an important part of that formula. “You have to enjoy this at the end of the day, because if you don’t, you’re not going to have much success. It’s already hard enough to do what we do, and if you’re walking in the building not enjoying it, it’s going to be even harder.”
If the smiles were an indication, the players were enjoying themselves much more than in recent weeks.
“Of course the energy is good,” Robertson said. “I’m not saying I wasn’t free before, but I’ve seen a lot of guys with a smile on their face. Practice was energetic. All we can do now is try to build off that and try to stack up these wins.
“Of course (the firing was) shocking, but for me … it happens. We know it’s a business. We’ve lost coaches before. All we can do is pick up the pieces and keep on rolling.”
Cornerback Nate Hobbs believes Pierce is the right man for the job.
“I don’t think there’s a realer coach I’ve met,” Hobbs said. “Since day one when he got here, I felt what he’s saying to us. We’re always somehow connected. … I love that he comes in with the same energy every day.”
His presence already has been felt.
“Whatever your head coach’s attitude is will have an instant effect on the building,” Hobbs said. “The energy a coach brings is what the team takes on. It does feel looser. It does seem more fun.”