Mark Davis needs to clean up the mess he created

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Sporting Tribune's Steve Carp writes the Raiders owner needs to make things right after firing Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler.

HENDERSON, Nev. — You knew it was coming. It was just a matter of when.

“When” became late Tuesday night, around 10 p.m. when the Raiders announced they were through with “The Patriot Way” by firing both head coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler. Offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi was also sent packing. I’m guessing Jimmy Garoppolo’s days as the team’s starting quarterback are likely numbered as well. Word is rookie Aidan O’Connell will be the starter Sunday when the Raiders face the New York Giants at Allegiant Stadium.

Suffice to say, Mark Davis was cutting his losses sooner rather than later. A month ago, he was telling disgruntled Raiders fans in Los Angeles to “Smarten up” after they called for McDaniels’ head as the Silver and Black were losing to the Chargers. Thirty days later, he was firing the coach.

He really didn’t have much choice. The team was underachieving on the field under McDaniels, who was 9-16 in his time in Las Vegas. Off the field, the moves Ziegler made — moving on from Derek Carr and Darren Waller, bringing in Garoppolo, two underwhelming drafts, and an overall subpar performance in the GM’s chair led to his removal as well.

The pressure from the team’s disgruntled fan base for change obviously had an impact on Davis’ decision. The fact that the Raiders’ locker room appeared fractured with star receiver Davante Adams publicly voicing his displeasure over the way things were being handled certainly played a role. He reportedly met in private with several of the team’s veteran players to hear from them directly. And obviously Davis came to the conclusion that despite his team being 3-5 with winnable games ahead on the schedule, the Raiders weren’t going to find a way to turn their season around by maintaining the status quo.

So what we have is an organization that will be paying three coaches — McDaniels, Jon Gruden and whoever Davis hires as the team’s permanent next head coach (linebackers coach Antonio Pierce will be the interim head coach). He’s also going to be paying two GMs. 

Good thing the Raiders’ team valuation is over $6 billion. So Davis can afford to spend millions on coaches and GMs.

So what now?

It’s obvious that “The Patriot Way” plan didn’t work in Las Vegas. It never was going to be successful since Davis didn’t have the two key components — Bill Belichick and Tom Brady — available. But Davis took a shot, hoping the winning in New England would somehow manifest itself in Vegas.

Perhaps Davis can find the answer he’s seeking from the other team he owns, the two-time WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces. He has found success with the coach, Becky Hammon, who is being paid $1 million, the most of any head coach in the league. The front office, which is led by president Nikki Fargas and GM Natalie Williams, has been solid. He has hired good people and let them do their jobs.

But football isn’t women’s basketball. It’s a little more complicated in building a winning team. There’s more people involved in the process and when you don’t get it right, as was the case with McDaniels and Ziegler, you get what the Raiders have — a losing culture fraught with dysfunction.

By pulling the plug now rather than waiting until January, Davis is giving himself a running start in identifying who he wants to bring in. Obviously, he’ll have to wait until the end of the season to finalize who he opts to hire, but at least he can begin the process now.

Can he get it right? It’s a fair question. The Raiders have been 

through six head coaches since Al Davis died in 2011 and Mark Davis took over, eight if you count Rich Bisaccia, who took over on an interim basis when Gruden left in 2021 and now, Pierce. The team last won a playoff game in 2002 which coincided with the Silver and Black’s last Super Bowl appearance. They’ve only been to the postseason twice since, both times as a wild card (2016 and 2021).

The roster is not devoid of talent. The problem there is the lack of depth, especially on the defensive side. And that’s where the hiring of the right general manager will be critical going forward. Whoever gets that job has to find the right pieces and make them fit. Garoppolo is Exhibit A of what happens when you try to put a square peg in a round hole. He was a bad fit.

So Davis has a two-pronged challenge ahead of him. Find someone who knows how to properly build an NFL franchise for the long term while finding the right person to coach it. He’ll have an abundance of options for both positions. Will he go with an experienced hand as GM or a player personnel guy? Will he hire an experienced head coach or reach for a coordinator? Or will he look to the college ranks (I see you, Jim Harbaugh)?

I don’t know that there’s a sure-fire answer. I thought it was a mistake not to make Bisaccia the permanent head coach after he guided the Raiders to the playoffs in 2021 and was a beloved figure in the locker room. The fans seemed to support him too. Perhaps Davis can try to bring him back. Bisaccia is currently the special teams coordinator in Green Bay. I don’t know what their relationship is and whether Bisaccia would want to work for Davis again. 

What I do know is he can’t afford to get it wrong this time. And since you can’t fire the owner, the long-suffering Raiders fan base has to hope Davis somehow figures this out and ultimately gets both decisions right. Because they are invariably joined at the hip and it’s rare when one component works and the other doesn’t leading to the ultimate success of winning Super Bowls.

This is a mess of Davis’ doing. He created it. Now, it’s on him to clean it up and fix it. The buck stops with him. It’s time for him to smarten up.