OPINION: Stern: Why Raiders should name Antonio Pierce permanent head coach


If Raiders owner Mark Davis wants to maintain the support of his disgruntled fanbase, learning from his past mistakes and promoting Antonio Pierce from interim head coach to their permanent new leader on the sideline is his only option. As a fast riser in the coaching profession, Pierce has the toughness, leadership qualities, and coveted black-and-gold swagger to lead Las Vegas back to a place of respectability.

It may only be one game, a 30-6 drubbing of the mediocre Giants that were without their starting quarterback, Daniel Jones, for three quarters this past Sunday. But, the result looked like weight had been lifted off of the Raiders' shoulders, as if they paid off gambling debts from a wild night on the Vegas strip. The Raiders posted a season-best 30 points -- and held the Giants to just six points -- in rookie Aidan O'Connell’s first NFL start. He played a clean game, completing receptions to eight different receivers and protecting the football, while also benefiting from bellcow Josh Jacobs in the backfield.

We hadn't seen a quarterbacking display of that caliber in Vegas since, well, who knows when. But, Pierce's game-planning and command of the locker room is a large part of the reason why everything finally clicked. With a fired Josh McDaniels hate-watching from his couch, the Raiders dominated in all three phases, playing like a team that'd been there and done that.

As history often repeats itself, the team has once again lucked into having a capable head coach already on its staff, after being forced to make another in-season change. But, as they learned the hard way their last time around, this could be a curse disguised as a blessing. Lifelong special teams coach Rich Bisaccia went 7-5 in 12 regular-season games at the helm back in 2021, becoming the first interim head coach to lead their team to the postseason since Bruce Arians did so nine seasons earlier with the Colts.

Based on performance alone, Bisaccia was well deserving of a promotion to their full-time position. But, his boring aura and background in special teams ultimately led to the Raiders choosing the offensive-minded McDaniels, who had previous head coaching experience in Denver and seemingly earned the favor of Davis. It was a decision that made sense from the angle that Bisaccia didn't garner head coaching interest elsewhere. But it was puzzling, given the Raiders' revitalization under his stewardship.

The Davis family may be historically stubborn in their beliefs, and willingness to go against the grain to impose authority. But making the obvious decision should be the course of action. Perhaps playing a villainous role as Sin City's wealthy antagonist makes Davis akin to famous gangster Bugsy Siegel, when he decided to take control over Vegas. However, an approach that prioritizes hiring the best (and most logical) candidate ensures they won't have a repeat of McDaniels, Jon Gruden, or even Lane Kiffin.

Pierce lacks the body of work as a coordinator that's desired for most head coaching roles, and he's just in his second year coaching in the NFL. But so what? We're talking about a nine-year NFL veteran and former Giants captain who led by example on and off the field. Someone who earned his way onto Herm Edwards' staff at Arizona State, following a successful four years as the head coach at high school powerhouse Long Beach Poly. There isn't another coach out there who'd be able to command authority and respect like Pierce. An eight-game audition period from now until this season's end will prove it.

A matchup against the defending champion Chiefs, plus showdowns against the Dolphins, Chargers, and Broncos, should provide a valuable sample size that speaks to how this Raiders team will compete going forward. Pierce will surely have a say in who his quarterback is next year if O'Connell is unable to seize the job, which means his struggles shouldn't be an instant decider. The quality of Las Vegas' play in all three phases will ultimately determine what the franchise's next move is. All indications are that they're going to play and fight much harder for Pierce than they did at any point for McDaniels.

In contrast to Bisaccia, who could've continued to be a diamond in the rough for the Raiders but had an unimpressive resume for a job elsewhere, Pierce is going to be a head coach at some point. It'd behoove Davis to gamble on the man who can lead to huge winnings, rather than conducting another arduous search that leads to someone less desirable who'll end up costing the house in the end.

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