The Las Vegas Raiders decided to fire head coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler a couple of weeks ago. In doing so, owner Mark Davis paved the way for a historical feat by their in-season replacements — Antonio Pierce and Champ Kelly. Plus, we can’t forget team president Sandra Douglass Morgan.
Raiders Make NFL History By Having A Triumvirate Of African American Leaders Up Top
For the first time in NFL history — no, not just Raiders history — a black team president, a black general manager, and a black head coach all hold those respective positions at the same time in the same front office.
In the long, illustrious history of the league, it took until 2023 to break down this barrier. Morgan assumed her presidential role before the 2022 campaign and, by all accounts, has done an admirable job up top. Now, with a 2-0 record under their belt, the Pierce-Kelly duo will aim to join her long-term by removing the interim tag from their titles.
Davante Adams Speaks On Importance Of Normalizing This In The NFL — And The World
All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams received questions about the significance of this step for African Americans everywhere. “I mean, hopefully, we get to a point where we don’t even need to acknowledge it. Not [just] here, but just in the world,” Adams replied.
“It’d be cool to just have a black president, and it just be the president. It’s just a normal thing; that’s the ultimate goal,” the former Packer said. “I mean, that’s a really big deal … It opens up a lot of doors. Similar to somebody like me coming out of East Palo Alto. And showing that it’s possible for the younger kids as these years go by.”
Adams finished his well-thought-out statement with a sweeping message about optimism toward the future. “The more we can just make that a normal thing and make it equal opportunities at the very least — that’s what we’re looking for.”
We’ll see how the rest of the Raiders season shakes out, as the two victories under Pierce and Kelly came against two scuttling New York squads. With the Miami Dolphins next on the schedule and two matchups with the Kansas City Chiefs awaiting, the duo will have a chance to prove itself as a viable option going forward.
The Track Record Isn’t Great For Interim Head Coaches
The elephant in the room is this — oftentimes in the past decade, an African American coach has been named the interim head coach. And nearly every single time, the team that elevated them to the position had zero interest in making them the full-time hire — no matter the success they did or didn’t have.
Steve Wilks is a prime example of a black interim head coach who revitalized the Panthers locker room after the firing of Matt Rhule during the 2022 campaign. Carolina was 1-4 at the time of the firing, with Wilks taking his ragtag bunch of guys to a 6-6 record the rest of the way.
It’s deeper than the numbers on paper, too. Players were vocal about Wilks and his instant impact on the locker room. Going further, several within the fan base clamored for the removal of the interim tag. Alas, the franchise, as many before them have done, looked the other way and let Wilks go.
In his place? Former Colts head coach Frank Reich. The Panthers sit at 1-8 in Year 1 of the Reich era; that’s the worst record in the entire league for those keeping track at home. Sadly, this is merely one example of dozens and dozens of such scenarios.
Looking deeper than just the interim coaches reveals even more damning numbers. In the history of the NFL, the league has had over 500 head coaches. Of those 500+, only 25 — yes, 25 — have been black. That represents less than five percent.
It is worth mentioning that diversity is slowly finding its way into leadership roles across the 32 teams. The Rooney Rule doesn’t always work the way it was intended, and there’s still plenty of room to grow more in this area, but the success of DeMeco Ryans with the Texans in 2023 can hopefully help make more strides.
Will Mark Davis Give Pierce A Legitimate Chance To Seize The Raiders HC Role Going Forward?
And then there’s Antonio Pierce. The Raiders famously elevated Rich Bisaccia to interim head coach in 2021, as the special teams coach led the Silver and Black to a shocking playoff berth. Following the season, Bisaccia was sent packing in favor of Josh McDaniels. And we all know how that went in Vegas.
To their credit, the Raiders were ahead of the curve in this regard. They hired the first full-time black head coach in modern NFL history when the franchise was still in Los Angeles. Hall of Famer Art Shell, from 1989-1994 (and again in 2006), served as the leading voice for the locker room. Shell was initially the interim head coach before gaining the role full-time. Pierce has a long way to go to remove the interim tag, but his intensity and ability to connect with his players is something that any team would be lucky to have.
The good news for Mark Davis? A decision doesn’t need to be made for another two months. Pierce (and Kelly) will get quite the audition with the remainder of the 2023 slate. Here’s to hoping that, at minimum, Davis is genuinely open to giving Pierce an actual fighting chance.
That goes further than the surface level — we need more inclusiveness as human beings. Especially in a league that consists of so many African-American players. If a guy can lay his life on the line as a player, why doesn’t he get the same recognition when the coaching talk comes up?
I’m not saying to hire just anyone, but plenty have shown they were deserving before ultimately being shown the door. Make it make sense.
*Top Photo: Getty Images