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Mark Davis says lack of progress led to decision to clean house

Updated November 1, 2023 - 6:22 pm

When it came to his decision to fire his head coach and general manager Tuesday, Raiders owner Mark Davis was not compelled by any specific breaking point.

After assessing the past 22 months under Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler, Davis wasn’t seeing enough signs that the Raiders were sufficiently progressing.

Not from a roster construction perspective. Or the synergy between the players and the staff. And most certainly not from the 9-16 record the club posted under McDaniels and Ziegler.

They are 3-5 this season, with losses in the past two games to the Bears in an uninspiring effort and to the Lions on national TV on a night when the offense looked pathetic.

“It just didn’t seem like it was jelling,” Davis said. “And as you watched it, it just seemed like it was very important that we made a change.”

So, less than two years into their Raiders tenure, McDaniels and Ziegler were fired. In their place are coach Antonio Pierce and general manager Champ Kelly, who have been elevated on an interim basis.

By making the change now, Davis hopes to salvage something from a season he believes can still turn positive. It’s the same reason Aidan O’Connell is replacing Jimmy Garoppolo as the starting quarterback.

“What I thought was, let’s try to figure out a way to fix this and see what we can do,” Davis said. “We still have a shot.”

This wasn’t about giving up; it was about giving his team a chance. So it’s full steam ahead, no matter how bleak things might look. Davis believes he owes that to the players and fan base.

“We’re out here to play for a championship,” he said.

The elevation of Pierce from linebackers coach to head coach allows Patrick Graham to continue to oversee the defense, and Bo Hardegree, who was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, to run that side of the ball.

Hardegree replaces Mick Lombardi, who also was fired.

Pierce, who played nine seasons in the NFL, becomes the tone-setter and final decision-maker, with a heavy emphasis on his leadership and connectivity to the locker room. Both traits were beyond obvious to Davis upon talking to Pierce on Tuesday.

“I got the feeling he was the right guy at the right time,” Davis said. “Someone who can lead and create and have the respect of the team. After talking to him, I was very confident he was the right choice.”

Kelly was hired as the Raiders’ assistant general manager shortly after Ziegler was named general manager in January 2022. The 43-year-old worked his way up from scout to assistant director of pro personnel over eight years in the Broncos organization before taking the director of pro scouting job with the Bears and moving up the ranks for seven years in Chicago.

Within the Raiders building and throughout the NFL, Kelly is considered one of the brightest minds in the game. As Davis pointed out Wednesday, he was close to hiring Kelly as his general manager two years ago. The decision to promote him to replace Ziegler was “an easy one,” Davis said.

An appreciative Kelly said he is ready to take control.

“I promise you I won’t squander the moment,” he said. “Make no mistake, I’m prepared for this position.”

NFL rules mandate that Davis and the Raiders do a full search to fill both jobs. Davis said he is open-minded to wherever that process leads, whether that means Kelly and Pierce remaining on board or the Raiders going outside to find their next coach and general manager.

“We have to get it right,” Davis said of the decision to find the next leaders of his franchise.

He thought that was the case nearly two years ago when he brought in Ziegler and McDaniels, who both developed under Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

In McDaniels, Davis was intrigued by the idea of an offensive guru able to mastermind a team and scheme capable of adjusting to any challenge. That was what he saw all those years observing and competing against the Patriots.

“It seemed like he always had an answer,” Davis said.

But McDaniels had few answers in Las Vegas. The offense has deteriorated into one of the worst in the league.

Ironically, the very thing McDaniels was hired to master became the team’s weakness. It hasn’t helped that Garoppolo, the quarterback McDaniels and Ziegler handpicked to replace Derek Carr, has played so poorly and is being benched in favor of O’Connell.

“It just didn’t work out,” Davis said.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on X.

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