In elevating Antonio Pierce to interim head coach, Raiders owner Mark Davis was conceding one of the fundamental flaws under previous coach Josh McDaniels and part of the reason the club no longer employs him.
McDaniels’ inability to connect to his players on some basic levels doomed him after it became abundantly clear his football expertise was failing him.
Davis believes Pierce can supply the former while growing in terms of the latter. The owner’s instincts are hard to argue after the Raiders followed their new coach’s lead over five tumultuous days to deliver their best performance in years in a 30-6 win over the Giants on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium.
Yes, the Raiders excelled relative to the X’s and O’s. Pierce deserves credit for that part, too, especially by leaning on his coaching staff to come up with winning game plans on both sides of the ball.
But where Pierce truly excelled was in the mindset he created within the Raiders almost from the moment he took over late Tuesday. His background as a former NFL player not only gives him a unique perspective but also serves him well as he transitions to his new position.
“It makes it a lot easier for us to connect with him because he understands the mind of a player,” wide receiver Davante Adams said. “And he’s done a really good job just making sure we understand that it’s not about him, it’s about this team.”
Out of that understanding, key changes were made last week. It involved the miniature basketball hoop installed in the locker room. The premium Pierce put on having fun and showing up to work with a smile. There were physical practices throughout the week. And Friday’s workday was declared Fat Friday, which included a team dance-off before an afternoon practice.
It also meant rewarding members of the 16-player practice squad with spots on the sideline on game day. Under McDaniels, those players were relegated to watching from boxes inside the stadium. Pierce said those days are over. On Sunday, they were standing alongside their teammates.
“That wasn’t my belief,” Pierce said Monday about keeping practice squad players off the sideline.
Not after asking them to practice just as hard as the players on the 53-man roster, provide invaluable preparation by playing the role of each week’s opponent and attending every meeting alongside everyone else.
“They got the Raiders uniform,” Pierce said. “Them guys bust their tails. They’re giving us looks on offense, defense, special teams. They’re working out every morning, they’re in the meetings. They’re in everything, but on game day, where are they?”
The gestures were not lost on his players. It even fueled them before hitting the playing field Sunday.
“We wanted to do it for AP,” running back Josh Jacobs said. “We’re going to play with everything we got for that man, just because of the position he’s in.”
By no means was it all fun and games last week. But Pierce pushed all the right buttons by allowing players to enjoy their downtime at the facility and imploring them to pour everything they had on the field, in the classroom and in the weight room.
“Mentally tough,” is how Pierce described it. “That’s what I prided myself on. That was my way as a player, to have that kind of mindset. Not to blink, not to worry about anything.”
Who: Jets at Raiders
When: 5:20 p.m. Sunday
Where: Allegiant Stadium
Radio: KRLV-AM (920), KOMP-FM (92.3)
Line: Jets -2½; total 37