Las Vegas Raiders’ Black leadership is a picture of progress
Las Vegas is NFL’s first club to have African Americans at team president, general manager and head coach
The photo, which is unlike any in NFL history, shows the hiring potential of both the Las Vegas Raiders and the league at large.
Before the Raiders’ 30-6 victory over the visiting New York Giants in Week 9, club president Sandra Douglass Morgan – the first Black woman in that role in the NFL – stood on the field at Allegiant Stadium flanked by interim head coach Antonio Pierce and interim general manager Champ Kelly, who also are African American. Granted, Pierce and Kelly may merely be placeholders for the remainder of the season after the Raiders’ organizational shakeup. Still, for a league that has doubled its efforts recently to address an inclusive hiring problem at the franchise level, the photo is a powerful snapshot in time.
No one should be surprised that the Raiders’ leadership focuses on diversity at the team’s highest levels.
Las Vegas is the NFL’s first club to have three African Americans in those key roles simultaneously. In 2022, Raiders owner Mark Davis hired Morgan, who’s also of Korean descent. Under the guidance of then-owner Al Davis, Mark’s father, the Raiders had the league’s first Latino head coach to win a Super Bowl (Tom Flores) and the first African American head coach in the league’s modern era (Art Shell).
Former Raiders executive Amy Trask was among the highest-ranking women in pro sports. Mark Davis also added to the franchise’s legacy in this area by hiring one-time general manager Reggie McKenzie, who is Black. No doubt about it: On the matter of inclusive hiring, the Raiders have been way ahead of the competition.
Just lead, baby.
Last week, Mark Davis kicked off the NFL’s next hiring cycle by sacking head coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler. Davis replaced them with Pierce and Kelly, respectively, who had strong opening acts in their auditions for the permanent gigs.
That’s clear, said Rod Graves, the executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance.
“The Raiders’ recent victory was impressive. I join others who credit Antonio Pierce for his immediate impact as the interim head coach,” Graves, leader of the alliance, an independent group that advises the league on matters of diversity, equity and inclusion in hiring, wrote Wednesday in an email to Andscape.
“It will likely be said that Antonio Pierce coaches the same way he played the game [with preparedness and passion]. The combination of Pierce and Champ Kelly as GM should provide the team with the leadership and stability they have longed for.”
Although the woeful Giants (2-7) are tied for the league’s second-worst record through nine games, every victory counts. Moreover, to hear some league officials familiar with the Raiders’ dysfunction under the McDaniels-Ziegler regime tell it, Pierce and Kelly are moving the football operation in one direction again. At the Raiders’ Henderson, Nevada, headquarters, that hadn’t been the case for some time.
For myriad reasons, many players were at their wits’ end with the ineffectual McDaniels and felt unsupported by the front office. In Pierce and Kelly, the Raiders (4-5) now have the most high-ranking people in their football operation aligned on what’s most important, or at least on what should be, on and off the field: a single philosophy in pursuit of team success.
The ship won’t be turned overnight. But at least the laborious process is underway.
Pierce, a former NFL linebacker, was only in his second season as an NFL position coach when tapped by Davis to take command. Before joining the Raiders, Pierce spent five seasons coaching at Arizona State.
The Raiders announced they are committed to undergoing “a comprehensive search” for a head coach and general manager “once the season is complete.” With having so little NFL coaching experience, including none as a head coach or even at the coordinator level before being elevated to the team’s top job last week, it would seem Pierce should hold off on redecorating the Raiders’ head coach’s office.
Pierce, however, is an outstanding leader of men, many former NFL players said.
During his playing days with the Washington Redskins and Giants, teammates rallied around Pierce. He went from being an undrafted rookie free agent to a Pro Bowl player who was a Giants starter when they defeated the previously undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. The Raiders would benefit from having a true leader as a head coach.
Kelly is in his second season with the Raiders.
In his previous post, Kelly was the Chicago Bears’ assistant director of player personnel. He also was the team’s director of pro scouting. Kelly began his career as a scout with the Denver Broncos, rising to become the Broncos’ assistant director of pro personnel.
A wide receiver and defensive back at the University of Kentucky, Kelly earned both a bachelor’s degree in computer science and an MBA. A whiz with numbers, he once worked in software for IBM.
In the past 20 seasons, the Raiders have reached the postseason only twice. They haven’t won a playoff game since the 2002-03 season. The team is unsettled at quarterback and the next general manager and head coach will not inherit a strong roster.
Additionally, the franchise continues to crave stability off the field. Jon Gruden resigned as head coach in 2021 after reports that emails he wrote over a 10-year period included racist, misogynistic and anti-gay language. And despite the Raiders’ groundbreaking moves in inclusive employment, Mark Davis was accused of violating the Rooney Rule in the hiring of Gruden.
Obviously, no situation is perfect. The Raiders under the Davis family, however, have shown much more of a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion than most of their competitors, and the potential now exists for Mark Davis to advance the ball again.
It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Yet again, the Raiders have proved that’s true.