A great deal has been said and written about how swift and dramatic the mood change in the Raiders’ locker room was this week.
I’m here to tell you it was more stark of a difference than you can imagine.
From the return of the Friday dance circle and a much-improved soundtrack on the practice field to the new mini-basketball hoop in the locker room, the sweeping overnight changes that occurred in the transition from Josh McDaniels to Antonio Pierce have had the immediate effect of creating a whole lot of smiles in the Raiders’ facility.
Star wide receiver Davante Adams said this week to not misconstrue the fun the players are all of a sudden having as some sort of celebration that McDaniels was fired. That it’s not some a “ding-dong, the witch is dead” situation.
OK, fine — but there’s certainly not any mourning over the house falling on McDaniels.
It’s clear this is part of the plan. Pierce has made no secret he wants the Raiders to get back to having fun, to enjoying the game like they did when they were kids.
He says it’s an important part of rebuilding a culture that has been crumbled by the Patriot Way.
Pierce believes the players cultivating an environment where they enjoy coming to work will translate to better performances on the field and, ultimately, victories.
He said he wasn’t even aware of the new locker room basketball games, but he’s more than fine with it.
“When we’re in the meeting room, that’s work. We’re on that grass, that’s work,” Pierce said. “What you do in your locker room, that’s their space. That is their sanctuary. I don’t go in there. I don’t poke my head in there. I don’t care about the music. They handle that.”
Pierce hopes the attitude permeates the entire Henderson facility.
“When I said the players, I meant everybody in this building,” he said. “That goes for the media, you gentlemen. Everybody that walks in here, we should have a smile on our face. I do think our message is clear, though. I think they’ve expressed themselves and now that’s over with. Now we need to move forward to playing the Giants.”
And there lies the rub.
The dancing. The laughter. The happiness. It has all been a breath of fresh air in a building that had been starting to feel like a morgue.
But it could absolutely be a house of cards.
While the joy is genuine, it is only temporary if the new attitude fails to produce results.
Have to win
The players know the freedom and loosening of the stringent rules is all well and good as long as it leads to them playing better.
“It’s a lot livelier and fun and there’s definitely more energy, but it has to translate to the field,” right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor said. “It’s great seeing everyone able to be themselves, but it’s even better to win. That’s what’s going to matter.”
The reality is they work incredibly hard at their craft and deserve to have fun. But it’s also going to lead to intense scrutiny, and they know that.
Adams said it best as he turned to a small group of reporters before draining a jumper in the locker room.
“Get ready for (the headlines)” he predicted. “This is why they’re losing, because they’re worried about the wrong things.”
He’s right. The locker room being fun isn’t likely to have anything to do with whether the Raiders win or lose. Serious locker rooms have been successful. So have fun ones.
But narratives are powerful, and everyone is aware of how those videos are going to look if the play on the field doesn’t improve.
The first test is Sunday at 1:25 p.m.
And if the Raiders beat the Giants at Allegiant Stadium? That locker room about to be turnt.