By Peter Mann

“For me, it’s a blessing. I’m from LA so when I grew up, the Raiders were playing in Los Angeles at the time; Proud Raider fan here.” Antonio Pierce upon joining the LV Raiders as linebackers coach, just seventeen months ago.

The Raiders are looking to Compton for inspiration to get their failing season back on track, and he’s saying all of the right things.  

Long Beach native, Antonio Pierce, has been afforded the interim Head Coach position of the AFC West franchise, the 3-5 Las Vegas Raiders, after a tumultuous spell under predecessor, Josh McDaniels, came to an abrupt end following the 26-14 loss against Detroit Lions. 

Having just turned 45 years old (26 October), Pierce, who was part of the New York Giants Super Bowl XLII (2008) winners, the highlight of an eight-year NFL playing career which saw him as a linebacker for first Washington Redskins, then the Giants.

Image Credit: Giants.com

Following his retirement from playing however, Pierce took a spell as an NFL Analyst with ESPN; four years later the former linebacker would begin his rise to the Raiders, hitting the top in under a decade. 

It’s been, maybe, an unorthodox rise for one who offers free football camps for underprivileged youths in his native, Long Beach/Compton area of California, and it began back home, Pierce taking first, the HC role with Long Beach Polytechnic High between 2014 and 2017. 

The national, high school powerhouse is one synonymous with names moving into the NFL (the most of any across America), that score alone is well into double figures and includes Willie McGinest, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jurrell Casey and DeSean Jackson. As well as more recent attendee, Matt Corral.

Following the end of the 2017 season, however, Pierce found himself moving on, eventually taking the HC position at Arizona State Sun Devils as the rise continued, running between 2018 and 2021, putting him on the radar of the Silver and Black

At the Sun Devils Pierce would spend his first two seasons combining that of linebackers coach, and recruiting coordinator, under Herm Edwards and Marvin Lewis, before earning a promotion, in 2020, which saw him add associate HC, and c-defensive coordinator to his repertoire. 

He is the first, former ASU player, to serve as an HC within the NFL, completing his meteoric rise. 

Sixteen months ago, when Pierce first joined the Raiders, brought in under the newly departed McDaniels, Pierce told raiders.com how he’d been preparing for coaching throughout his playing career. 

“When I played, I saw myself as a coach on the field. I think I was known for being a student of the game. Going up against Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, being teammates with Eli Manning, there were a lot of chess matches that we played with one another. Tony Romo as well; I really prepared myself when I played as a coach... Studying, preparing myself making sure as a defense, we saw things the same way.”

In taking the reigns as interim HC of the LV Raiders though, and in doing so seeing out the remainder of the 2023 season with the franchise sitting third in the West, Pierce’s inaugural press conference certainly saw him say every right word, at the right time, and much more. 

Pierce talked long and hard about it being a new day, a new chapter, and a new era, and setting a new mindset in the Raiders locker room; he talked about re-installing Raider pride and their Commitment to Excellence, a phrase coined early on in the franchise’s illustrious history. 

He also said that the Silver and Black, that the Raider Nation, was tired of losing, that it was not a good feeling, and that he’d be relying on leaders to step up and put up. 

Image Credit: Silver & Black Pride

Leaders like Davante Adams, Maxx Crosby, and Robert Spillane, as well as the Raiders’ captains and leaders, know what it takes, to both don that uniform, to be a Raider, and to ‘Just Win Baby’. 

Perhaps the biggest statement to come from the press conference though was the 45-year-old talking about his bleeding Silver and Black, whilst also name-dropping the legendary West Coast hip-hop, gangsta rap group, N.W.A, who were most prominent in their early days of the late eighties, early nineties, and consisted of that of Eazy E, Dr Dre, DJ Yella, Arabian Prince, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and The D.O.C. 

Pierce said: “The short story and the matter of fact is I grew up in Compton, California. 

“I was born a Raider. I was born with the Raiders rolling in the Coliseum in Los Angeles. 

“I was rolling with N.W.A talking ‘Straight Outta Compton rocking Raider hats.” 

Alongside the appointment of Pierce as interim HC, the Raiders have also promoted Anthony ‘Champ’ Kelly as interim GM, they also having relieved Dave Ziegler of his duties earlier this week. 

Florida-born Kelly, at 43 years old, never played in the NFL, he taking more of a behind-the-scenes, office-type role in the sport. 

Between 2003 and 2007 Kelly was with the Lexington, KY, Horsemen as first a player, then receivers coach, and eventually GM, before moving into the NFL, with Raiders’ divisional rivals, Denver Broncos, in 2007, going on to hold four positions before a move to Chicago Bears arrived in 2015, spending the next six years in the Windy City as first, Director of Pro Scouting, then Assistant Director of Player Personnel. 

Image Credit: Raiders.com

He moved to the Raiders in February last year, taking on the role of Assistant General Manager, being promoted to interim GM on 1 November this year; Kelly boasts a master’s degree in Business Administration, a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science (both from Kentucky), and between 2002 and 2005 also served as a software/quality engineer for the American multinational technology corporation, International Business Machines Corporation (IBM).  

Perhaps a blessing in disguise for Pierce, along with the Raiders’ new, interim General Manager, Champ Kelly, is that the first two outings are not only at their Allegiant Stadium home, but are that of the New York Giants (2-6; Sunday 5 November), and New York Jets (4-3; Monday 13 November), before the challenges really kick in later on this month. 

Mid-November will see Pierce take the Raider Nation to the Hard Rock Stadium, and the much-fancied, 6-2 Miami Dolphins, followed a third home game in four when they host divisional rivals, Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, and the 6-2 Kansas City Chiefs. 

Although several permutations are at play, come the end of November we could well see where the Raiders stand in the grand scheme of things heading into the final five of the regular season; victory over both New York franchises will be welcome relief and would see the Raiders head to Miami 5-5 and in with, just maybe, an outside chance. 

It is those clashes with the Dolphins, and the Chiefs, which scare the most right now – the Raiders need to build a crest of a wave in which to ride, and Pierce, needs to steady that ship.

Feature Image Credit: Sports Illustrated