Just one year ago, the Las Vegas Raiders entered OTAs under head coach Josh McDaniels. Little did anyone know, the 47-year-old head coach, who had long been one of the most highly-regarded assistants in the NFL, would only make it eight games in what was his second season with the Raiders. McDaniels would lose the locker room in historic fashion and found himself jobless following a Week 8 Monday Night Football loss in Detroit.

The Raiders would replace McDaniels with Linebackers coach Antonio Pierce, a former NFL star who had very little coaching experience before earning the interim tag. The season was thought to be lost, but as the kids say, the vibes were immaculate once Pierce took over, and for that reason, by season's end, it seemed like a no-brainer that Las Vegas would eventually remove that interim tag.

Now, as the Raiders enter their first OTAs under a new coaching regime, Antonio Pierce continues to prove he's willing to do things a little differently, and thus far, the results have been overwhelmingly positive, if only because he's doing exactly what he did during the 2023 season… injecting life into the Las Vegas Raiders, and doing so in creative ways.

“Everything seems faster-paced, more energetic and more enjoyable than in the past,” writes Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “There is a ton of chatter among players and the staff, and Pierce isn’t afraid to show his emotion by emphatically pointing out positive reps. It has rubbed off on the players, who don’t hesitate to celebrate a big play or touchdown. No one is going through the motions.”

It's not just that Antonio Pierce has upped the energy of Raiders OTAs. He's also found savvy (and legal) work-arounds of league rules that limit the amount of time that teams are allowed to keep players in the building during OTAs.

“Pierce also added a real-time teaching mechanism that turns periodic breaks into mini-classroom sessions. Multiple big screens are lined up on one sideline, enabling players to gather to watch replay footage of practice during hydration breaks. Knocking out review sessions on the field, in the moment, during breaks cuts down the post-practice film session.”

Not bad for a guy in his first go-round as an NFL head coach.

Las Vegas Raiders head coach Antonio Pierce and star wide receiver Davante Adams

The Antonio Pierce Effect 

The Raiders were 3-5 when Antonio Pierce took over for Josh McDaniels, and immediately his approach was applauded by essentially everyone within the Raiders locker room. Suddenly, Las Vegas started winning games — and lighting victory cigars to celebrate. The Raiders won their first two contests under Pierce, and would go on to win five of the nine games he coached, bringing their final record to 8-9 for the 2023 regular season.

Everyone has been quick to point out Pierce's perceived shortcomings as a potential full-time head coach, but they ignore the role that positive morale can play inside of a locker room. Josh McDaniels might've had a much more impressive CV than Antonio Pierce, but it's crystal clear now that he wasn't a better choice to coach the team than Pierce was.

This isn't to say that Las Vegas will be a sleeper playoff team in 2024. There are plenty of holes on the roster and there will be growing pains for this Pierce-led staff during their first season. But the best thing that Raiders owner Mark Davis could do is remain patient with the guy that all of the Raiders veterans wanted coaching this team.