What's next for Raiders after firing Josh McDaniels, Dave Ziegler?

ByPaul Gutierrez ESPN logo
Wednesday, November 1, 2023

HENDERSON, Nev. -- The Las Vegas Raiders fired coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler late Tuesday night, less than two years after coming to Southern Nevada from New England. Linebackers coach Antonio Pierce was named interim coach, and Champ Kelly was promoted from assistant general manager to interim general manager.

There is no word yet on who will assume offensive playcalling duties, as that was McDaniels' job.

McDaniels was just 9-16 with the Raiders, including 3-5 this season, and he and Ziegler were at the helm for some of the most embarrassing losses in franchise history, including:

  • Blowing the largest lead in franchise history in losing to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2 last season after leading by 20 points.
  • Falling to the Indianapolis Colts, who were led by an interim coach in Jeff Saturday who had never coached above the high school level before, in Week 10 last season. It was Saturday's only win in the eight games he coached last year.
  • Squandering a double-digit lead to the Los Angeles Rams and quarterback Baker Mayfield, who hadjoined the team only two days prior, last December.
  • Getting shut out in New Orleans in Week 8 last season when the starting offense failed to cross the 50-yard line.
  • Losing to an undrafted Division II rookie quarterback making his first start in the Chicago Bears' Tyson Bagent in Week 7 this season.

The duo of McDaniels and Ziegler took over a team that went 10-7 in 2021 and advanced to the playoffs for only the second time since 2002. While offense was supposed to be McDaniels' forte, the Raiders' offense has cratered this season. It is the No. 31-ranked total offense in the NFL in yards per game (268.3), No. 32 in rushing yards per game (70.0) and No. 30 in points scored per game (15.8).

And the move from nine-year starting quarterback Derek Carr to the oft-injured Jimmy Garoppolo has not been fortuitous, as Garoppolo has already missed 2 games with a concussion and back injury yet still leads the league with nine interceptions. There has been noise that the team could move on from Garoppolo, signed to a three-year, $72.75 million free agent contract in March but coming off one of the worst statistical games of his career in Monday's loss to the Detroit Lions, in favor of rookie Aidan O'Connell.

So how did this happen, and what should we expect from the Raiders the rest of the 2023 season and beyond?

Why make this move now instead of during the bye week or at the end of the season?

Simply put, Raiders owner Mark Davis had seen enough and realized the error of the hires. Plus, Raiders fans literally getting in his face at recent games and at the Las Vegas Aces' championship parade -- Davis also owns the two-time WNBA champs -- imploring him to fire McDaniels had to make an impact.

The bye week isn't until Week 13 in December and, really, what had the Raiders put on film recently to show they were primed to turn a corner? There is talent on the roster, underused talent, that could use a bump from a fiery leader like Pierce, not unlike what the Raiders rode with Rich Bisaccia two years ago into a playoff spot. Two winnable home games are on the horizon with the New York Giants and New York Jets coming to Allegiant Stadium, so there's no time like the present to salvage a season and get back to .500, right?

The Raiders seemed all-in on seeing the McDaniels-Ziegler partnership through. What changed?

The lack of a clear and successful plan, really. While few in the building were upset with moving on from Carr, especially with how he left the team after being benched with two games to go last season, signing an oft-injured Garoppolo to a big contract despite knowing he needed surgery on his left foot seemed ... desperate. Using the No. 7 pick on an edge rusher who was coming off surgery on his right foot in Tyree Wilson seemed similar.

Still, signing Carr to a contract extension and giving him a no-trade clause, allowing him to leave without the Raiders getting anything in return, did not sit well. Losing games by increasingly embarrassing fashion with Raiders alumni chiming in on social media was no doubt noticed. Wasting the likes of wide receivers Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow, along with running backJosh Jacobs-- as well as defensive end Maxx Crosby-- well, that was unconscionable.

Which players could benefit from this move being made now?

No doubt the new playcaller, whoever that is, will want to get Adams more involved. He hasn't had a TD catch since Week 3 and is coming off a one-catch, 11-yard game at Detroit. Jacobs, the reigning NFL rushing leader, has yet to rush for 100 yards in a game this season. And Renfrow, who caught 103 passes two seasons ago, has just 10 catches on 16 targets. And if Pierce wants to go with the rookie over the beat-up Garoppolo, O'Connell will also benefit.

What is the pulse of the locker room, and how could it evolve after this move?

After the frustrating loss at the Lions, the Raiders' locker room felt like a mausoleum as Adams, usually a dictionary and a thesaurus in postgame scrums, was at a loss for words. Crosby, trying to send a message to Detroit by rocking a Ron Artest Indiana Pacers throwback jersey (Malice in the Palace, anyone?), seemed, well, decidedly un-Artest and was more accepting and mellow. And the normally gregarious Jacobs was angry.

While it might not be that well constructed, it's a top-heavy roster with frustrated and unhappy stars galore. Hitting reset now could rejuvenate that love for the game Garoppolo spoke of in his postgame presser. How that translates to on-field success remains to be seen.

Who could be on the radar as the Raiders' next coach and GM?

Let's say the Raiders catch fire and make a run to the playoffs. Pierce and Kelly should retain their jobs and have the interim tags removed. Unlikely, right? You could have said the same thing two years ago. And you could have said interim coach Rich Bisaccia and his staff, as well as then-GM Mike Mayock, deserved at least one year to show their heart-tugging run to the playoffs wasn't a fluke. And yet ... here we are.

Still, it will be interesting to see if Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh tires of his battles with the NCAA and is actually interested in Las Vegas. After all, his coaching career began with the Raiders as the QB coach in 2002.

What's a realistic outlook for the rest of the season?

Few, if any, teams actually ride an emotional bump to the playoffs. And yet, the Raiders showed it was possible two years ago. Look, there is still talent dotting this roster, in all three phases. If it was as simple as motivating players, Pierce should have an advantage over the grinding and oft-described manic McDaniels. Offensive playcalling is key, though. And the Raiders' upcoming two-game homestand against the Giants and Jets will tell the tale. Check back in.

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