A New Chapter for The Las Vegas Raiders

After a game away from home against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 4, Mark Davis, the owner of the Las Vegas Raiders, was captured on camera shouting at the jeering fans. He encouraged them to “smarten up” while they were chanting for the franchise to fire the Head Coach, Josh McDaniels, and start a new chapter for the Las Vegas Raiders.

McDaniels and General Manager Dave Ziegler were subsequently fired on October 31st at 10 P.M. Pacific Time, the day after a loss to the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football. During the first half of the game, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo failed to complete a pass to a wide receiver, which contributed to the team’s poor performance and led to the firing.

The Next Chapter in Las Vegas

Following their loss to Detroit, McDaniels asked his linebackers coach, Antonio Pierce, to address the team in his place. Pierce attempted to motivate the team by sharing his experience as a member of the Superbowl-winning New York Giants team. He described how the team bonded strongly through adversity and managed to defeat the previously undefeated New England Patriots team, for whom McDaniels was the offensive coordinator at the time. However, McDaniels seemed to have taken Pierce’s words as a sign of disrespect towards him and the Patriots.

After the team talk, owner Mark Davis decided to make Pierce the interim Head coach due to McDaniels’ loss of the locker room. It is evident that Davis and the Raiders aimed for the success and direction of the New England Patriots, with Ziegler, Coach McDaniels, and Garoppolo producing it on the field. Unfortunately, they never came close to that and changes had to be made when the locker room was lost.

With the Raiders, McDaniels went 6-11 last season and was 3-5 when he was fired this season. He became the first NFL head coach to be fired twice in-season as he was fired mid-season by the Denver Broncos in 2010. It seems what Davis wanted was for McDaniels to take over a team built by Mike Mayock and John Gruden and continue to have the success interim Head Coach Rich Bisaccia had whilst Ziegler began constructing a version of the Patriots in the Nevada desert.

It was always considered a risky move to hire McDaniels as a Head Coach, given his previous unsuccessful attempts. Moreover, the situation with the Indianapolis Colts added to the doubts, McDaniels initially agreed to be the head coach, even setting up his own staff, only to change his mind at the last minute and return to The New England Patriots as the offensive coordinator. This left Jim Irsay and the Colts in such a difficult position. It was McDaniels’ success as the offensive coordinator in New England that made him seem like a hot commodity as it had for many others in the Belichick coaching tree but some coaches are truly better off as coordinators and assistant coaches in the NFL.

If Pierce and interim General Manager Champ Kelly can lead this team to the playoffs, or even continue to win and be competitive, then it’s highly likely that both could stay on for this next chapter. The main goal of Davis and the front office is to simply win, just like his father Al Davis taught him because winning in the NFL is all that matters. 

The Raiders have won two games out of their last three, including consecutive home wins against the Giants and Jets. Unfortunately, they lost the last game against a talented Dolphins team in Miami and there’s a true test coming up against The Kansas City Chiefs at home in Las Vegas. A home win against the division leaders would be incredible at this point as it would really give the whole franchise hope as they go into this next chapter. It would be huge for Pierce in his quest to become the full-time Head Coach and it would give the Raiders a 6-6 record heading into the bye week. The return game with the Chiefs is on Christmas Day.

A Commitment to Excellence in Oakland and LA

The Raiders have a long and illustrious history in the NFL and are considered one of the top franchises. The late great owner Al Davis knew the true value of the franchise and what it meant to the cities of Los Angeles and Oakland. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the team was at its most dominant and was known as the bad boys of the NFL. The Oakland Raiders won their first Super Bowl in 1976 with John Madden as Head coach and went on to win two more in 1980 and 1983, with two different coaches. Former Raiders Quarterback Tom Flores became the first Hispanic coach in NFL history and won the Superbowl in 1980 and former Raiders offensive lineman Art Shell led them to the win in 1983. This happened despite the turmoil Al Davis was going through as he moved the team from Oakland to Los Angeles because he was unable to have improvements made to the historic Oakland-Alameda County Colosseum.

The great John Madden left after the 1979 season to begin his second Hall of Fame career in television. Madden never had a losing season as a coach and helped lay the foundations of this great franchise during those 10 winning seasons he spent on the sidelines. He coached many Hall of Fame players and really set the standard in the NFL. The work Al Davis accomplished during this period was remarkable, and they established a commitment to excellence that they still strive to meet today. Davis became well-known for his phrase “Just win, baby.” Because in the NFL, he knew that the most important thing was winning, above all else; nothing else mattered.

For years Al Davis would love drafting players with speed. He had his own formula for success and he stuck by it until he passed away in 2011. In 1995, after returning to Oakland and the Bay Area, the Raiders’ owner sought more success and hired Gruden for his first stint as Head Coach of the team. This was only the second time that the franchise had looked outside of the Raiders family to hire a coach and Gruden was made to be a Raider.

Before being traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for money and draft picks, it was evident that Gruden had built a championship team in Oakland. Following the ‘tuck rule’ game against New England, something went awry between Gruden and the front office. Al Davis traded Gruden and replaced him with his offensive coordinator, Bill Callahan. However, two seasons later they met in the Super Bowl where Gruden’s imprint was evident in the way the Buccaneers beat the Raiders. It was a big move for Mark Davis to bring him back to the franchise and team him with Mayock in 2018. Unfortunately, for reasons both on and off the field, it didn’t work out and brought us to where we are today.

The View from the Black Hole

Many fans wanted Bisaccia to stay as the coach of the Las Vegas Raiders after Gruden left. Bisaccia was able to guide the team to victories. However, it’s likely that Mark Davis and the front office let Bisaccia go because they wanted to bring in a coach and GM team with connections to Bill Belichick. The goal was to implement ‘The Patriot Way’ in Las Vegas and move on from Mayock more than Bisaccia.

For a fan base that had just been relocated to a new city and with playoff expectations each season being non-negotiable, it’s understandable that all may not be well in the Black hole after the mid-season firing of both coach and GM. Many people are frustrated that McDaniels chose Garoppolo over Derrick Carr, whom many were loyal to. Losing Carr led to the breakup of his connection with the star receiver DeVante Adams, who was like a brother to Carr. This was one of the main reasons why he agreed to be traded to the Raiders. Adams’ frustrations were evident from the start of this season. It’s clear that a situation like this could damage the relationship between the head coach and the locker room.

As a fan, it must be baffling why McDaniels couldn’t address the team himself after the Detroit loss. It is easy to imagine what happened after Pierce’s speech given McDaniels’ history and the reports from inside the locker room and in the media. Regardless of what transpired, it’s obvious it was time to move on and Davis had the ideal interim head coach in Antonio Pierce who grew up around the Raiders in Long Beach, California and as a former Super Bowl-winning linebacker and pro bowler, it was obvious that he had the respect of the locker room and the confidence of team leaders like Max Crosby and Adams.

It is too early to predict the future of Goroppolo or whether rookie quarterback Aiden O’Connell has the potential to become a franchise quarterback. However, the team has managed to stabilize after the bad loss to Detroit and the mid-season firings, which has to be impressive to the fan base. The team still has many players from the Gruden and Mayock era, as well as those added by McDaniels and Ziegler. This is an ideal situation for fans who appreciate the traditional Raider way and it’s amazing how teams can rally and be successful if the formula, coaching, and team chemistry are on point.

Raider Nation Moves On

I truly believe that if Pierce can demonstrate that he has the team’s confidence and he gets results, then that would be enough to keep Davis interested and not pursue the likes of Ben Johnson from Detroit, Dan Quinn from Dallas, or potentially Jim Harbaugh if he returns to the NFL. I think winning and good team chemistry will trump everything, and I believe that Davis is wise enough to see that.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the rookies and players drafted by the previous regimes. Ziegler and McDaniels had the opportunity to select top prospects like Jalen Carter, Darnell Wright, Peter Skoronski, or Broderick Jones at the start of the draft. However, they opted for edge rusher Tyree Wilson instead. They did pick up one of the top Tight ends from a talented group, Notre Dame star Michael Mayer, and he’s started to produce a little. They passed on Dewand Jones in round four. In fact, they did not add any players to the offensive line. I suppose much of the success of this draft is hinged upon how O’Connell can steer the ship towards the end of the season. He has a massive opportunity at such an early stage in his career.

Just Win, Baby

The recent move of the Oakland A’s to join the Raiders in Las Vegas has left behind a sense of nostalgia for the great teams and unique characters of the great Oakland Colosseum. However, the new Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas is impressive and caters perfectly to the modern NFL market. It’s encouraging to see that Antonio Pierce has already achieved a winning record, and with no one going to Vegas to lose, there is hope that this new team can recreate the era of ‘Commitment to Excellence’ or perhaps even surpass it. As the season progresses, I often wonder what Al Davis would think of the Raiders’ current situation, just as I wonder what the great Dan Rooney would have thought of everything that’s going on in Pittsburgh. As difficult as it is to imagine, It is highly conceivable to predict what Al Davis would say.

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