Why the Raiders Hired Antonio Pierce: Las Vegas Removes Interim Tag on Head Coach

The Las Vegas Raiders are finalizing a deal to name Antonio Pierce the next head coach after a successful interim run. What made them strip the interim tag?

After hints that the Las Vegas Raiders would strip the interim head coaching tag from Antonio Pierce, multiple outlets are reporting that the two sides are finalizing a deal to make it permanent. Pierce will be the next in a slew of former NFL players to have found their way to the highest level of the coaching profession.

Raiders Players Played a Massive Role in Retaining Antonio Pierce

In nine games as the Raiders’ interim, Pierce won five.

“Yeah, I think the team played well down the stretch, and I think going 4-2 in the division is a positive for us,” Raiders owner Mark Davis said. “That’s what we have to take care of first is the division. And we went into Kansas City, in a tough game, and beat them [20-14 on Christmas Day], and we took care of Denver here at home to end the season.”

Maxx Crosby was reportedly exploring the idea of a trade request if Pierce was not hired as the head coach. Crosby is a top-five pass rusher in the NFL and is the beating heart of the Raiders’ defense. Considering how they played down the stretch, his request would make sense.

“It’s legendary,” Crosby said. “When you have the right culture, a guy like A.P. that embraces the history of the Raiders, it’s special. … A ton of legends [visit] consistently because of the amount of respect they have for him. So, it makes you, as a player, want to go out there and show who you are. You know what I mean? You want to be at that level one day.”

From Weeks 1-8, the Raiders’ defense ranked 26th in EPA per play and 28th in success rate. After Pierce’s elevation, only the Cleveland Browns defense was more efficient from an EPA perspective, and Las Vegas ranked 11th in success rate.

“I can honestly tell you that I don’t know where I would be right now mentally and physically if AP hadn’t taken over, and that’s no shot at Josh and what he was doing,” tackle Jermaine Eluemunor said. “But for me, it just wasn’t going in the right direction. AP taking over and instilling that confidence in everyone and bringing that dog out of everyone in this locker room.”

The Raiders were also the cleanest teams in the NFL in 2023. They only committed 75 penalties all season. They had 113 a season ago, 124 the season before, and 98 in 2020. Their production skyrocketed in 2023, and they played a much more disciplined brand of football under Pierce.

Pierce’s NFL and Coaching History

The Long Beach, California native played college football at Mt. San Antonio and Arizona before signing an undrafted free agent with the Washington Redskins in 2001.

Pierce played off-ball linebacker and started for Washington as a rookie and again in 2004 before heading to New York. As a member of the Giants, he started every game he played from 2005-09. Pierce earned Pro Bowl status in 2006 and won a Super Bowl as a starting linebacker.

He quickly became a captain during his time as a Giant — going from undrafted to being a team captain says a lot about Pierce.

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After his NFL career ended in 2010, Pierce eventually became the head coach at Long Beach Poly HS in California from 2014-17. In 2018 he became the linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator for Arizona State. However, he quickly became the associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator in 2020 before becoming the full-time play-caller in 2021.

Although he only rose to the NFL level in 2022 as the Raiders’ linebackers coach, he is not green. His prior NFL experience, head coaching experience, and defensive play-calling experience make him a well-rounded candidate.

Finding a Quarterback

“I like what Aidan [O’Connell] has done as far as how he carries himself on and off the field and in this building,” Pierce said, referring to the Raiders’ fourth-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

With the 13th pick in the NFL Draft and many intriguing quarterback prospects, it feels like a foregone conclusion that the Raiders will either move up for a QB or select one with their original pick.

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