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Raiders hire familiar face as head coach, but wait on GM

Updated January 19, 2024 - 8:13 pm

Raiders players, through their actions and words the past two months, made it clear they wanted Antonio Pierce to be their head coach.

Their message was heard by owner Mark Davis. He named Pierce the 23rd coach in franchise history Friday.

Pierce became the Raiders’ interim coach after Josh McDaniels was fired Oct. 31 and guided them to a 5-4 finish. He won over players during that stretch, including stars Davante Adams and Maxx Crosby. Pierce earned universal support inside the locker room by embracing the Raiders’ way and encouraging his players to do the same.

What had been a sullen group in the days leading up to McDaniels’ dismissal came alive under Pierce’s watch. The breath of fresh air he injected into the room was felt from the playing field to the stands. Raiders fans serenaded Pierce with chants of “AP, AP, AP” after the team’s 27-14 win against the Denver Broncos in the season finale Jan. 7 at Allegiant Stadium, a clear sign the 45-year-old had also won over the club’s supporters.

It was compelling stuff and wasn’t lost on Davis, who heeded the message from his players and fans.

Davis did not return a text message asking for comment on Pierce.

The Raiders also interviewed former Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier, who most recently was assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for the Bills, and former NFL assistant coach Kris Richard. Both were out of football this season.

In somewhat of a surprise, Pierce’s hiring did not coincide with a decision to also hire Champ Kelly as the Raiders’ general manager. Kelly was named the club’s interim general manager after Dave Ziegler was fired Oct. 31. It was assumed Pierce’s and Kelly’s long-term fates were linked.

That still could be the case, but it was conspicuous Pierce was promoted on his own. Especially because Kelly interviewed for the general manager’s job two days before Pierce interviewed for the coaching position.

The Raiders also interviewed former Chargers general manager Tom Telesco, Colts assistant general manager Ed Dodds, Bills director of player personnel Terrance Gray, Bengals senior personnel executive Trey Brown and Broncos executive director of football operations Kelly Kleine Van Calligan for their general manager opening.

Dodds and Pierce share an agent. Dodds was also a favorite of Davis in 2022 when he conducted the Raiders’ last general manager search. The job ended up going to Ziegler with Kelly coming on as an assistant.

Dodds, who began his front-office career as a Raiders player personnel department intern, is respected around the NFL.

Pierce’s first order of business will be building his coaching staff.

He is expected to shake things up on offense. Interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree is not expected to be retained. Offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo left for the same position with the Giants.

The defense might be different. The Raiders blocked defensive coordinator Patrick Graham from interviewing for the same position with another team, indicating they hope he returns. Graham could still leave because he has interviewed for multiple head coach openings.

Pierce is also expected to hire longtime NFL coach Marvin Lewis to his staff, though Lewis’ role has yet to be defined. The 65-year-old was hired in an advisory role when Pierce became the interim coach.

Lewis was the Bengals’ coach from 2003 to 2018 and won a Super Bowl as the Ravens’ defensive coordinator in 2001.

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

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