Davis didn’t let history repeat itself by hiring Antonio Pierce

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis listened to his top players, removed the interim tag and made Antonio Pierce the head coach.

HENDERSON, Nev.  — Mark Davis apparently wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.

Two years ago, the Las Vegas Raiders owner heard his players petition him to make interim head coach Rich Bisaccia the team’s permanent head coach. Davis decided not to listen and hired Josh McDaniels instead.

This time, Davis listened. His players stumped for him to retain Antonio Pierce, who went 5-4 after replacing McDaniels on Halloween night. And while it must have been tempting for Davis to possibly hire a big name like Jim Harbaugh, Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, Mike Vrabel or someone else outside the organization, he didn’t go that way. He had what he wanted all along inside the walls of the team’s headquarters. On Friday, the drama ended and Pierce had the interim tag removed from his title.

Two things of note.

One, in making the official announcement, the Raiders did not announce any terms of Pierce’s contract, not even length. But we can assume he’s not on a one-year deal.

Two, there was no announcement on who the general manager will be. Many believe that Davis is going to give Champ Kelly a chance to be the permanent general manager after Kelly replaced Dave Ziegler the same night Pierce took over for McDaniels. It’s important for the GM and the head coach be on the same page and it appears that has been the case with Kelly and Pierce. But it was strange that the GM announcement didn’t coincide with Friday’s head coach announcement.

In the event Kelly is not the guy, that potentially could make things awkward. Virtually all GM’s have a say in who the head coach is. Kelly was part of the group that interviewed Pierce.

Ultimately, I believe Kelly will remain with the Silver and Black. Together, he and Pierce will be tasked to plot a course to not only get the Raiders back to the postseason on a regular basis, but to eventually get to and win a Super Bowl. And if they’re lacking any incentive, they need only drive by Allegiant Stadium, which is being prepared to host SB LVIII on Feb. 11, and draw inspiration from seeing their home field host their sport’s championship game.  

It was clearly evident that Pierce was the right guy for the job. His players respected him and played hard for him. The fans supported him, chanting “A.P., A.P.” in the waning moments of the season-finale 27-14 win over the Broncos on Jan. 7. Pierce didn’t need to campaign for the job, choosing instead to let his body of work speak for him.  

Granted 5-4 doesn’t make you Vince Lombardi or Bill Walsh or Chuck Noll. That 3-0 shutout loss to the Vikings on Dec. 10 will remain a head-scratcher. But Pierce knows the game. He knows how to lead and treat men. He understands the whole Raiders mystique and vibe, having grown up a fan of the team when it played in Los Angeles and he was living in Compton. He gets it.

So don’t get hung up on his 5-4 mark. Let’s see what he does with a complete off-season to put his stamp on the team long-term. Let’s wait and watch how he adjusts his staff. His thing is defense. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t find an offensive coordinator who can get things humming.

Let’s see what the draft and off-season free agency bring in terms of shoring up the quarterback position along with the offensive line, the secondary and linebacker.

Pierce may be young — he’s 45 — but he has been around football his entire life. He knows his strengths and weaknesses. He was smart enough to bring people like Marvin Lewis and Tom Coughlin around to pick their brains and learn, sort of like having a football Obi-Wan Kenobi to garner wisdom from.

But the biggest asset Pierce has is leadership. He knows how to lead grown men. He understands what it means to be a professional. He can relate to the young guys while at the same time command respect from them. In that sense, he’s a proven commodity.

Davis obviously saw that. And it didn’t hurt when Raiders legends joined the current team in the locker room to celebrate victories. Family has always been an important trait of this organization and guys like Ted Hendricks, Jim Otto, Charles Woodson, Fred Biletnikoff, Tom Flores, Jim Plunkett, Richard Seymour and Marcus Allen are family. It’s as simple as that.

So as we wait for the other shoe to drop, so to speak with the announcement of the general manager hire, give Mark Davis credit for listening to his players, trusting his gut and not letting history repeat itself when it came to deciding who the Raiders’ head coach should be. To use one of his own phrases, Davis “smartened up” in hiring Antonio Pierce.