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Raiders hire Antonio Pierce as their coach, removing the interim tag

Antonio Pierce led the Raiders to a 5-4 record as their interim head coach over the season's final nine games. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Antonio Pierce’s audition as the interim coach of the Las Vegas Raiders this season earned him the job on a more lasting basis.

The Raiders hired Pierce as their coach Friday, announcing the move hours after two people familiar with the deliberations said Pierce was the Raiders’ choice, pending the completion of a contract. The terms of that deal were not immediately known.

Pierce coached the Raiders to five victories in their final nine games of the season after being promoted from linebackers coach to interim coach in November, in conjunction with the firing of Josh McDaniels. Pierce received strong support from Raiders players. Standout pass rusher Maxx Crosby reportedly had been prepared to consider requesting a trade if the team had not retained Pierce as its coach.

All of that was enough to convince Raiders owner Mark Davis to remove the interim tag and give the job to Pierce, who became the rare NFL interim coach to retain the position.

The Raiders became the second of the eight NFL teams searching for new coaches this offseason to make a hire. The New England Patriots promoted Jerod Mayo from linebackers coach to coach last week, on the day after Bill Belichick parted with the franchise that he had coached to six Super Bowl triumphs over 24 seasons.

The hirings of Pierce by the Raiders and Mayo by the Patriots provide an early boost to the NFL’s minority hiring efforts. Pierce was one of four Black head coaches in the NFL this season after he replaced McDaniels, along with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Todd Bowles and the Houston Texans’ DeMeco Ryans. Mayo is the first Black head coach in Patriots history.

NFL leaders have said they are hopeful of improved diversity results during this leaguewide hiring cycle after Ryans was the only Black head coach hired last offseason among five openings.

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Under NFL rules, the Raiders had to conduct a coaching search and comply with the league’s minority interviewing requirements even if they opted to give the job to Pierce. Each team with a head coaching vacancy must conduct at least two in-person interviews with minority candidates from outside the organization. In-person interviews with candidates from other NFL teams cannot occur until after this weekend’s divisional round of the playoffs. Virtual interviews can take place sooner (and are occurring now across the league).

The Raiders reportedly conducted in-person interviews Tuesday with two coaches who did not coach in the NFL this season, Leslie Frazier and Kris Richard. Frazier, Richard and Pierce are the only candidates known to have interviewed with the Raiders. Pierce’s interview reportedly occurred Monday.

People connected to the leaguewide coach-hiring process believed that the Raiders were interested in Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh, who is exploring his NFL options. Harbaugh, who coached the Wolverines to an NCAA championship this season, has interviewed with the Los Angeles Chargers and Atlanta Falcons. He might speak to other teams as well, a person familiar with the situation said in recent days. It is not clear whether Harbaugh spoke to the Raiders before they made their decision about retaining Pierce.

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Pierce was in his second season as the Raiders’ linebackers coach when he was promoted to interim coach. That followed a stint as an assistant coach at the collegiate level at Arizona State. He was an NFL linebacker for nine seasons with Washington and the New York Giants. Pierce was selected to one Pro Bowl and won a Super Bowl title with the Giants as a player.

He coached the Raiders with enthusiasm and toughness this season. When they led the Chargers 42-0 at halftime of a Dec. 14 game in Las Vegas, Pierce was asked during an interview on the Amazon Prime broadcast just before the second half began what he told his players. He said, “Press the gas pedal even harder.”

The Raiders won that game, 63-21, and the Chargers fired Brandon Staley as their coach the following day. Pierce’s interim stint also included a road triumph over the Kansas City Chiefs on Christmas Day.

Davis perhaps learned a lesson from his decision not to retain Rich Bisaccia, who led the Raiders to the playoffs in the 2021 season as the interim coach following Jon Gruden’s resignation that October. Rather than retaining Bisaccia following that season, Davis hired McDaniels, only to fire him after the Raiders went 6-11 last season and started 3-5 this season.

The Carolina Panthers, Chargers, Falcons, Washington Commanders, Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks continue to search for new coaches.

The Raiders have not yet hired a general manager to replace the fired Dave Ziegler. But the choice of Pierce as coach could signal that the team might hire Champ Kelly, who served as the interim GM, to work with Pierce.

Marvin Lewis, the former coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, is likely to join the Raiders in some capacity to work with Pierce and possibly Kelly, according to a person familiar with the team’s deliberations.