HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Changes kept coming to the Las Vegas Raiders on Wednesday, and it’s up to interim coach Antonio Pierce to make sense of it all and try to salvage the season.
A day after the club fired coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler, offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi was let go, quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree was promoted to offensive coordinator and Aidan O’Connell replaced starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo.
Pierce’s first game will be Sunday at home against the New York Giants, where he played from 2005-09 and started all 16 games on the 2007 team that won the Super Bowl.
Pierce, 45, deflected any personal meaning of facing the Giants, saying the game was too important for the Raiders (3-5) to be concerned about that.
It’s that record that largely led owner Mark Davis to make dramatic changes late Tuesday night.
“This is a great opportunity for myself,” Pierce said. “I’m humbled, I’m honored and I don’t take it lightly. I’m sure there will be questions about why, how — those all get answered. But this is about the players, this is about the Raiders and this is about this organization. We’re tired of losing. It’s not a good feeling for a production-based business.”
Pierce met with reporters alongside Champ Kelly, who was promoted from assistant general manager to interim GM. Kelly, 43, said he would not pretend to have all the answers and would learn from mistakes that inevitably would be made.
“Although the circumstances are not ideal, there’s always opportunity in difficulties,” Kelly said. “I couldn’t be prouder to accept this opportunity as the interim general manager for the Las Vegas Raiders. I’m so eager and excited to get to work.”
He thanked Raiders management “for believing in me. Thank you for this opportunity. I promise you that I won’t squander the moment.”
The most notable on-field change is at quarterback. Las Vegas signed Garoppolo during the offseason for $72.75 million over three years, but as he has throughout his career, he struggled to stay healthy. Garoppolo also was mistake prone, his nine interceptions leading the NFL despite missing 2 1/2 games to injuries.
Even if McDaniels hadn’t been fired, Garoppolo might have headed to the bench anyway after throwing an interception into the end zone and badly missing on two deep throws to wide-open Davante Adams in Monday night’s 26-14 loss at Detroit.
The change in coaches assured there would be a switch at quarterback, and now Raiders management and coaches get to see if O’Connell — drafted in the fourth round this year out of Purdue — is the long-term answer. If not, Las Vegas will have a quarterback-rich draft next year to try to find that player.
O’Connell started one game this season, but lost two fumbles, threw an interception and was sacked seven times in a Week 4 loss at the Los Angeles Chargers. He played well in the preseason, and the Raiders hope that is more indicative of what O’Connell can accomplish.
“The guys are rallying behind him,” Kelly said. “They’re excited for him to get the opportunity.”
O’Connell will take direction from Hardegree, who replaces Lombardi as the coordinator and McDaniels as the play-caller.
“We’re going to start a young quarterback, we’ve got to protect him,” Pierce said. “The last outing, we didn’t protect him very well. We didn’t protect the football. For all of our offense, turnover-free football, get back to playing the style where you impose your will and play with real intent. You can do that with skill guys.”
It was that former linebacker’s presence that Pierce brought on Wednesday, and Kelly said he felt the same when Pierce addressed the team Wednesday morning.
The Raiders stood pat at the trade deadline Tuesday, so this is their team moving forward. A boost of energy probably couldn’t hurt.
Las Vegas went through a similar situation two years ago when Jon Gruden resigned five games into the season because of offensive emails that were uncovered. Interim coach Rich Bisaccia got the players to buy in, and the Raiders used a late surge to make the playoffs.
“I think I had everybody’s attention (at the team meeting), and I had their eyes,” Pierce said. “I’m not a long-winded person. I’m not going to give you a dialogue or write an essay. I get right to the point. It’s black and white. You know how I feel when I walk out the door.”
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