Antonio Pierce or Jim Harbaugh? That is the question that faces Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis this offseason.

It’s not an easy decision but it’s one I want to break down. Should Jim Harbaugh want the job, the Raiders may decide to once again in the Mark Davis era, go outside of the organization to hire their next coach. There’s confirmed mutual interest between the two. Mark also allegedly believes he needs big names to succeed in Las Vegas, even if it hasn’t worked so far.

Mark hired Josh McDaniels from New England, Dennis Allen and Jack Del Rio from Denver, as well as Jon Gruden from a 10-year retirement. It’s in stark contrast to his father who went multiple decades as owner without hiring outside of the Raiders organization.

Given the state of the Raiders in 2024, they need a leader for the job.  They’re a team that’s on the cusp of playoff contention. They’re just a quarterback and head coach pairing away from making it. Whether it’s Harbaugh or Antonio Pierce, that’s up to Mr. Davis.

Money won’t be any sort of reason why the Raiders don’t hire a big-name head coach. Unlike back in the day when the team was in Oakland, Mark Davis is no longer struggling for money compared to the other owners. He dished out massive contracts to prior big-name hires Josh McDaniels and Jon Gruden, showcasing that he’s more than willing to pay the price to try and win. He’s just been mostly unsuccessful at it thus far.

Why not try to change tactics this time? If you keep making the same mistake, why not change your decision-making process? Throwing money at big-name coaches hasn’t worked. I’ll go into more details later, but Antonio Pierce has the support of everybody. It would be the right move to go with him.

What about Jim Harbaugh?

Antonio Pierce is the Right Choice

Michigan Wolverines Head Coach Jim Harbaugh – Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Jim Harbaugh just won the National Championship at Michigan. He’s 60 years old and has had a lot of success everywhere he’s coached. He’s been the head coach at Michigan, University of San Diego, Stanford, and with the San Francisco 49ers. He’s a proven winner at both levels and finally achieved the championship win that had long alluded him both as a player and a coach.

But something a lot of Raider fans forget is that Harbaugh got his start with the Raiders. Jim Harbaugh was the Raiders quarterback coach in 2002-2003 and has previously cited Al Davis as a mentor.

What attracts the Raiders though is his success at every level. Harbaugh turned a good University of San Diego team into a squad that went 11-1 in back-to-back seasons. He turned Stanford from a joke into a powerhouse that even smacked around Pete Carroll’s USC team. The 49ers were instantly reborn under his direction and made 3 NFC Championships and 1 Super Bowl in 4 years. Michigan was down in the dumps until he restored them.

All of this sounds amazing and it makes you think that Harbaugh should be the obvious choice for the Raiders job. After all, the Raiders did finish with an 8-9 record despite a talented roster that features great players like Davante Adams and Maxx Crosby and this man is a proven winner at every level. What doesn’t make this a slam dunk hiring?

Well, the biggest thing is fear. The Raiders have entrusted 2 big-name head coaches with massive contracts already and both failed. Both also basically acted as their own general managers and had full control over all personnel decisions, something that Harbaugh would also likely require to be enticed to come here. Both Jon Gruden and Josh McDaniels failed spectacularly at essentially being head coaches and general managers.

The problem with giving a coach all of the power to hire a GM and have the final say over everything is that they essentially have unchecked power. The only coach right now with that sort of authority is Bill Belichick and currently, the Patriots have a top 5 draft pick. When your ego is left unchecked and nobody else can question your thinking, it’s dangerous and makes building a good team even harder if not impossible.

On top of that, it’s likely that if Harbaugh comes in, the entire roster becomes a massive question mark across the board. The only player who would likely want to stick around is going to be Maxx Crosby. Josh Jacobs would be gone for certain as he said he would come back only if Antonio Pierce returns. Harbaugh would have to work hard to either win over a locker room that has declared their full support for Antonio Pierce, an alumni base that also has declared their support for Antonio Pierce, or he would have to scrap everything and go for a very unpopular full rebuild.

The other question would be the coaching staff. Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham coached up a top-10 unit. It was the first time that the Raiders have had a top-15 defense since 2002. They’re denying requests for Graham to be interviewed for other defensive coordinator jobs, but what if Harbaugh comes in and dismisses the entire current staff for his own staff? Would that undo all of the work the defense did?

There’s also the issue of how things went in San Francisco, his only stop in the NFL. Yes, they had a lot of success in his tenure. It was also incredibly tumultuous. He clashed heavily with owner Jed York and GM Trent Baalke to the point that they let him go the first time the team didn’t make the playoffs in 2014.

On top of that, some of his former players brought up that there were locker room problems behind the scenes that were hidden behind the winning. Lots of players had issues with the law as well. 49er legend Joe Staley and former Pro Bowl guard Alex Boone have been quoted in the past discussing how Harbaugh was divisive even with the players on the team and divided the locker room. Both players stated that if you weren’t one of Harbaugh’s guys, it was difficult to be there.

Why is Antonio Pierce the choice?

Antonio Pierce is the Right Choice

Las Vegas Raiders Interim Head Coach Antonio Pierce – Ian Maule/Getty Images

What about Antonio Pierce? The current interim coach who led the team to a winning record under his brief tenure. He did what not many other Raider coaches have been able to do and that’s go into Arrowhead Stadium and beat the Chiefs. He went 3-1 overall against the AFC West.

The win against Kansas City was the best win in his 5-4 tenure. It was a nationally televised game even being shown on Nickelodeon and the Chiefs have been the most talked about team this year not just because of being Super Bowl Champions but because Taylor Swift is dating Travis Kelce. Josh McDaniels was 0-1, Jon Gruden was 1-3, Rich Bisaccia 0-1, Jack Del Rio 0-3, Tony Sparano 0-1, and Dennis Allen was 1-1 at Arrowhead Stadium since 2012. Not a lot of Raiders coaches have gotten the job done against the Chiefs period since 2013, much less at Arrowhead Stadium.

On top of that, there was a dramatic culture change. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a sudden culture shift in all of my time watching this team. They went from looking like a team that might be picking in the top 3 picks to beating the Chiefs on Christmas Day. The players went from playing very robotically to having energy as well as discipline. They finished as the least penalized team in all of football for the first time in Raiders history.

You can look at his 5-4 record and scoff. But the season was declared all but dead. Raiders owner Mark Davis even apologized to the team for wasting their season with McDaniels. Instead, Pierce got the team to a place where they were in the hunt for a playoff spot until week 17. They broke a record with 63 points against the Chargers. The defense went from being one of the worst in the league for the last 20 years to being a top 10 unit.

Antonio Pierce may not have the experience of Jim Harbaugh. But every coach has to start somewhere. Rookie head coach Demeco Ryans just won a playoff game for the Houston Texans with a rookie quarterback. Who’s to say the Raiders can’t do the same in the 2024 season?

On top of that, I don’t think any team has ever rallied behind a head coach candidate the way that Raiders players have rallied behind Antonio Pierce. Maxx Crosby came out and stated “All options are on the table” if the team doesn’t hire Antonio Pierce, confirming earlier reports he would demand a trade if the Raiders don’t hire AP.

Davante Adams has bluntly stated Antonio Pierce has his vote. Josh Jacobs stated that 90% of his decision-making process in regards to returning would be whether or not the team hires Antonio Pierce. On Friday, several Raiders voiced their support for Antonio Pierce on social media including by posting “#HireAP”, most notably Crosby.

If the Raiders do not hire Antonio Pierce, they risk likely having to tear down and rebuild the same way they did in 2018 with Jon Gruden. Raiders fans should remember how brutal that rebuild was and while it resulted in Maxx Crosby, Kolton Miller, and Josh Jacobs, it also resulted in players like Alex Leatherwood, Damon Arnette, and Jonathan Abram.

The Raiders 2020 draft class in particular is known as arguably the worst in NFL history and the Raiders somehow missed on most of the picks they got in exchange for future Hall of Fame player Khalil Mack when they traded him to Chicago. I bring that up only to express the difficulty of rebuilding a team from nothing, which is something the Raiders would likely have to do once again if they hire Jim Harbaugh.

Antonio Pierce is a captivating hire for the team. No coach might fit the Raiders image more closely than he does, and he is the only correct choice for the Raiders in 2024.


See also: Raiders Week 17 Slay and Bomb