How do you know when you’ve found what you’re looking for?
The answer seems obvious, but I’d argue that most of the wasted time in the world can be credited to misunderstanding the question. You see, the problem is most people work in the wrong direction. Rather than starting at the beginning, they find something they like and then convince themselves that this must have been what they’re looking for — in part because they never did the work of establishing what exactly it is they want or need.
If there’s one thing Mark Davis has been guilty of — specifically as he has set out to solve the organization’s head coaching problem — it’s landing on an answer before understanding the question. He admits that in 2018 he chose Jon Gruden before going through an evaluation of his options, and then in 2022 he got blinded by the “Patriots Way” and failed to see Josh McDaniels for who he really is as a coach (an abject failure).
Now, in 2023 (and into 2024), Davis has yet another chance to get it right — but this time, the right answer is already sitting right in front of him.
The next coach of the Raiders should be Antonio Pierce.
It may seem like this is history repeating itself — finding an answer before understanding the question — but the truth is that this is the exact opposite because when you understand what makes a great coach you realize that Pierce is exactly what this organization needs.
When it comes to head coaches, there seem to be three paths organizationally: hire either an offensive genius or a defensive genius, or bring in a CEO-type and surround him with specialists.
Look around the league, and you can see successful examples of all three: Sean McVay and Kyle Shannahan are offensive gurus, Mike Tomlin and DeMeco Ryans are defensive-minded guys with success (albeit pretty early into Ryans’ tenure), while John Harbaugh and Dan Campbell are success stories from the third bucket.
And of all the names on this list, it’s Campbell who has done the most in opening up a pathway for guys like Pierce. Obviously, in his case, he’s not in either of the first two categories (even though he played defense, he has never called plays at the NFL level) — and yet the secret sauce of a CEO-type lies not in calling plays, but in creating culture.
And in that regard, how can you argue with what has happened since he took over as interim coach?
The vibes in the organization changed immediately — and while that seems to be expected in the short-term, the fact that the Raiders are still thriving months later (while essentially being eliminated from the playoffs) speaks volumes to me. And it has translated onto the field too — not just in the form of wins, but in characteristics like discipline and toughness.
For me, it’s not just that they beat the Chargers with a record number of points one week after holding a team to just a field goal — or that they went into Kansas City on Christmas and came away with a convincing victory. It’s how it looked.
One week after scoring zero points, the Raiders offense didn’t quit or wave the white flag — they scored 63 points and didn’t let up after getting out to an early lead (as was their trademark under McDaniels). And against the Chiefs, despite not completing a pass in the final 47 minutes, the Raiders offense pulled it together enough to run the ball right down Kansas City’s throat to ice the game in crunch time (without their All-Pro running back and left tackle).
And how about this? Over the last three weeks, the Raiders are second in the NFL in penalty yards per game (29.0), they’re fourth in takeaways (7), they’re first in points allowed per game (12.7) and tied for ninth in giveaways (3). For a Raiders fan, the first category alone tells me everything I need to know about Pierce and his leadership.
Again: discipline and toughness.
And to think he’s doing it all without an answer at quarterback and with almost nothing to play for!
From my perspective, the two things the Raiders need in a coach are a guy who can change the losing culture and a guy who can give fans hope to believe that the next decade is going to be very different than the last one. In Pierce’s case, I can’t think of a guy I would trust more to do those two things right now.
For starters, he has shown it — but he’s also a guy who gets it. He gets what it means to be a Raider, he gets what the organization has stood for and he represents in an uncanny way the aura and essence of what it means to be a Raider.
You see, while I’ve waffled back and forth over the past few weeks about what I think of Pierce, the clincher came on Christmas Day — but it wasn’t when the final whistle blew, but rather what happened about 15 minutes later in the locker room.
With cigars lit and music blasting, Pierce gathered the team together for a quick message — and while much of what he said will be forgotten, it’s how he ended things that clinched it for me. Reflecting not only on that the Raiders won and how they won but on the swagger and energy he saw in that locker room he said this:
“This is what the hell we do.
“Let’s smoke our s***, let’s talk our s***.
“This is the Raiders’ g****** way.”
Yep, the search is over.
The Raiders have found their next coach.