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New Las Vegas interim head coach Antonio Pierce: 'I was born a Raider'

The Raiders' surprise mid-week house cleaning has elevated a former NFL linebacker into the role of interim head coach.

As Antonio Pierce sees it, he was made for this role all along.

"I've been fortunate. I played at a high-level," the new Raiders interim head coach told reporters on Wednesday. "Going back to my roots and coaching at Long Beach Poly. At high school, I was the head coach there. I was at the New York Giants in 2017 and then college (Arizona State) for four years. I had opportunities to leave and go to other organizations and decided not to.

"The short story and the matter of fact is I grew up in Compton, California. I was born a Raider. I was born with the Raiders rolling in the Coliseum in L.A. I was rolling with N.W.A. talking Straight Out of Compton, rocking Raider hats. So, when an opportunity came to work with Josh (McDaniels), (defensive coordinator) Pat Graham and Dave (Ziegler), I jumped on it. So, that's what set me up for this. I was born this way."

The downside to Pierce's promotion from linebackers coach is what necessitated it: Las Vegas fired McDaniels and Ziegler in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, roughly 24 hours after Las Vegas lost to the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football. The changes came swiftly, with assistant GM Champ Kelly filling Ziegler's place as interim general manager, and Pierce taking over in a move Raiders owner Mark Davis said he made because he "felt he was the right guy at the right time," per the Las Vegas Review Journal's Vincent Bonsignore.

"(Pierce is) someone who can lead, create and have the respect of the team," Davis said on Wednesday.

Pierce didn't take long to make a firm decision at the sport's most important position, opting to bench veteran Jimmy Garoppolo-- who seemingly lost trust in his offensive line, and thus, his ability to play at an adequate level -- in favor of rookie Aidan O'Connell.

"We just feel like he gives us the best chance," Pierce explained to reporters on Wednesday.

"The guys are rallying behind him," Kelly added when speaking of O'Connell. "They are excited to watch him get his opportunity. I was there as AP (Pierce) was speaking to the team and he had their eyes and there was an energy that was tangible in the room. There was a true excitement and guys are geared up to prepare for this weekend."

The firings of McDaniels and Ziegler brought an end to a tenure fraught with disappointing performance and seemingly a disconnect between players and coaching staff. The former Patriots employees failed to instill the Patriot Way in Las Vegas, no matter how hard they might have tried. By the time it ended, it was clear there was a disconnect between staff and players, which Davis quickly realized needed to change.

With Pierce now in charge, the Raiders are making a 180-degree turn in the opposite direction and running toward a player-empowering environment.

"We had a good team meeting this morning. We had a full house," Pierce said. "I think I had everyone's attention that had their eyes. I'm not a low-winded person. I won't give you a dialogue or essay. I get right to the point, it's black or white. You know how I feel when I walk out the door. 

"I've been around these guys for two years now as a linebackers coach. I made my presence known in the linebacker room, defensive line room, quarterback room and the running back room. I'm a former player; I touch football players. I can relate to them. I've done the same things they've done. I've walked the same paths they walked. I felt the same pain they felt. 

"So, there's nothing or any emotional ride or rollercoaster they've gone through this year or the two years I've been with them, that I haven't felt. My personality will come out and reflect on this team. Hopefully we see that on Sunday."

Such a change in approach is natural and to be expected from a former player. He'll receive a quick reminder of his playing days when he takes the sideline for his first game as a head coach and sees his former team, the New York Giants, on the opposite side of the field this Sunday.

"How about that? Couldn't write it up," Pierce said of the poetic timing. "But it's not Antonio Pierce versus the New York Giants. It's the Las Vegas Raiders versus the Giants, coming into our house. 

"It's a much-needed win for us. We've had two ugly losses. It's time to change that. We are in the second half of the season. It doesn't matter who Antonio Pierce plays. It's about the Las Vegas Raiders and those players understand that. It's about them, not me."

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