HENDERSON, Nev. — Antonio Pierce was officially announced as the new full-time head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders on Friday.
Raiders owner Mark Davis elevated Pierce from linebackers coach to interim coach following the Halloween night firings of coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler, and Pierce, along with interim GM Champ Kelly, changed the culture of the Raiders’ locker room overnight.
Following the Raiders’ season-ending 27-14 victory over the Denver BroncosDavis told ESPN he was “really excited” about the job Pierce did in leading the team to a 5-4 finish after he took over.
Besides finishing with a winning record, the Raiders also went 3-1 in the AFC West under Pierce, scoring a franchise-record 63 points against the Los Angeles Chargers and beating the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium for only the second time since 2013.
In announcing Pierce as their new head coach, the Raiders crossed out the word “interim” in a post on X.
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) January 20, 2024
When Davis first promoted Pierce, who had never been a head coach above the high school level, Davis told ESPN he did not want Pierce to necessarily “coach,” so much as “lead” and “delegate.”
The Raiders played a cleaner, stingier and more focused game after Pierce took over.
Consider: Under Pierce, the Raiders led the NFL in fewest points allowed per game (16.0), defensive touchdowns (4) and fewest penalties (31) while having the 10th-most takeaways (14), being fourth in point differential (62) and tying for third most in sacks (30) from Week 9 through the end of the season.
Davis also said at the time, “[Pierce] understands the culture of the Raiders, and that’s important to me.”
Growing up in Compton, California, outside of Los Angeles a huge fan of not only the Raiders when they called L.A. home but also local seminal rap group N.W.A, which was known for wearing Raiders gear, immediately changed the culture to a players-first atmosphere. A mini-basketball hoop was immediately installed in the locker room and the music playlist for practice was changed to include the stylings of N.W.A, whose radio-friendly versions of songs were played in Allegiant Stadium during pregame warmups, while the Friday team dance-off to kick off practice returned.
And after home victories, the Raiders lit celebratory cigars in the locker room.
Raiders players bought into Pierce’s leadership style, with All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams saying his “vote” was for Pierce and that he would “run through a wall for that man.” Three-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Maxx Crosbywho had a career-high 14.5 sacks this season, also voiced support for Pierce.
“It’s legendary,” Crosby said after the season finale. “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 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.”
Pierce also garnered support from Raider alumni such as Hall of Fame defensive back Charles Woodson, who pointed to Pierce being a former linebacker in the NFL, and two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Jim Plunkett, who observed the players responding to Pierce in quick fashion.
A Pro Bowler himself for the New York Giants in 2006, Pierce played nine seasons in the NFL with Washington (2001 to 2004) and the Giants (2005 to 2009). He was a key member of the Giants team that beat the then-undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
After finishing 8-9 overall, though, the Raiders have only had two winning records and two playoff appearances — after the 2016 and 2021 seasons — since appearing in Super Bowl XXXVII in January 2003.
Pierce is the seventh head coach (regular and interim) Davis has hired since assuming control of the franchise upon his Hall of Fame father Al Davis’ passing in 2011, along with Dennis Allen, Tony Sparano, Jack Del Rio, Jon Gruden, Rich Bisaccia and McDaniels.
While there is no word yet on the status of Kelly, he is a leading candidate to return as GM.
Pierce, 45, was asked in his season-ending news conference about the head-coach job.
“I will never use the word ‘deserve,'” he said. “Hopefully, I’ve earned it.”