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Raiders owner reveals why he chose Tom Telesco as general manager

Updated January 24, 2024 - 4:51 pm

It isn’t always easy for Mark Davis to find enough goodwill in his heart to like someone from an opposing team. Even more so when it comes to anyone associated with his three AFC West rivals.

So it was telling that when the Raiders’ owner spent time with then-Chargers general manager Tom Telesco, he came away feeling a certain way.

“I actually liked him,” Davis said Wednesday, laughing. “And that’s hard for me.”

Davis’ fondness for Telesco wasn’t the sole reason he hired the longtime NFL front office executive as his new general manager. That had more to do with the talented rosters Telesco built over the years in San Diego and Los Angeles. And Telesco’s 11 seasons of experience in the role.

“It’s grown so much over the years,” Davis said. “There’s so many different layers to it that might not have been there 15 or 20 years ago. And at this point in time, I just feel that experience and knowledge is what we need.”

Telesco’s expertise should pair well with first-year coach Antonio Pierce. Davis hopes they form a powerful combination that gets the Raiders to the next level.

Telesco was chosen over assistant general manager Champ Kelly, who served as the Raiders’ interim general manager the last nine games of the season. Kelly remains under contract, and Davis is hopeful Kelly will remain with the organization.

“We think extremely highly of Champ,” Davis said.

Telesco will have the final say on personnel issues. He will collaborate with Pierce, who guided the Raiders to a 5-4 record as their interim coach last season.

“It’s a partnership,” Telesco said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of people that are part of the process. You’ve got a scouting staff and a coaching staff. You kind of bring it all together in the end and make decisions.”

For Telesco, 53, the call to join the Raiders was powerful.

He cut his teeth working for revered NFL personnel men like Bill Polian and Dom Anile. Now he gets to work for an organization built by one of the godfathers of player evaluation: Davis’ late father, Al.

“This is such an iconic franchise with a storied history, and obviously all starts with the legacy of Al Davis,” Telesco said. “I couldn’t be more excited to be here, but also realize there’s a tremendous responsibility with this job. The fact that Mark and the whole leadership team is trusting me with this, I couldn’t be more happy to be a part of this.”

Telesco was fired by the Chargers a day after the Raiders beat them 63-21 at Allegiant Stadium on Dec. 14. According to a source with knowledge of the situation, Telesco had overtures from multiple teams. The Raiders immediately piqued his interest, however.

“You look at the resources that are here and the head coach that’s here, I think we can win,” Telesco said. “That’s why I want to be here.”

Telesco and Pierce began to build their partnership during the former’s second interview for the job.

It came just a few days after Pierce was hired as coach Friday. The Raiders wanted Pierce to spend time with his potential general manager.

That meeting strengthened Telesco’s pull to the Raiders.

“You could tell he has that leadership trait that a head coach has to have, and to me it feels more like not so much follow me but join me, which I like in football,” Telesco said. “Because he’s right in it with the rest of us, and I think your football team takes on the identity of your head coach, and that’s what we’re going to have here. That’s what we’re going to build around.”

Davis experienced a similar feeling in his coaching search.

Past and present Raiders employees and loyalists offered Pierce their support. It validated what Davis thought when he promoted Pierce to interim coach after firing coach Josh McDaniels. That Pierce is a leader of men who embodies the Raiders’ culture and spirit.

“The overwhelming consensus was Antonio Pierce was the right man for the job,” Davis said.

Pierce saw some of those leadership traits in Telesco when the two met. He also saw some skills that could complement his own, like when he tried to agitate Telesco.

The Raiders hope it’s a long-lasting marriage that leads the franchise to success.

“He knows I was poking at him, trying to get him going, trying to get that AP juice out of him,” Pierce said. “But he stayed very poker-faced, which I was like, ‘OK, cool, this is good.’ ”

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

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