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Raiders coach Antonio Pierce on relationship with new GM Tom Telesco: We have to 'check our egos at the door'

Tom Telesco's stellar run with the Chargers meant he wouldn't be unemployed for very long.

His unemployment lasted roughly five weeks before the Raiders scooped him up, pairing the veteran personnel chief with young coach Antonio Pierce to begin a new era in Las Vegas -- an era that began, coincidentally, after Pierce's team dropped 63 points on Telesco's Chargers, prompting the general manager's in-season departure.

"I told him I was going for 71," Pierce joked Wednesday in regard to his first interaction with Telesco. "We were going to go for two, but I'm sorry. Go ahead."

The new partnership mixes three decades of front office experience -- including the last 11 years spent as Chargers general manager -- with the fire of a former player-turned-coach who produced instant results, winning five of nine games as interim coach in Las Vegas. It isn't unique, but it is intriguing, especially considering it's a creation of a Raiders franchise that has tried and failed to manufacture winning culture with past regimes, with Patriots products Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler being the most recent.

Instead of trying to break a branch off a winning tree and plant it as its own in the desert, the Raiders are trusting their eyes and hoping it works.

"Me and Tom had never met prior," Pierce said. "Obviously, I had watched his body of work with the San Diego Chargers and then, lastly, with the Los Angeles Chargers. Obviously, when we met, when he came in the other day, I could see that he was genuine. He was poised, he was calm. He had a plan. He presented it. It was well thought out.

"I think as this relationship grows like anything else, it's going to have its ups and downs. We got to be adults and grown men about it. We got to hash it out. We got to understand our roles. Check our egos at the door like we do with everybody else in the building, but understand that we got a plan. And our plan is to do that together. Be hand in hand with it. Obviously, if he goes down, I go down. That's just how it is. That's the nature of the beast.

"We get it, but that's not our plan. Our plan is to win, put a team in place that is competitive each and every week and gives ourselves an opportunity to win."

Winning begins with establishing a firm plan for the Raiders' future under center. One of Pierce's first moves as interim coach was to bench Jimmy Garoppolo in favor of rookie Aidan O'Connell, whom Pierce described as the Raiders' best existing option at the position. The results justified his decision, with O'Connell posting an 11-6 TD-INT ratio and throwing for 1,905 yards in his final nine games. But was it enough to convince Telesco and Pierce he can be the guy entering 2024?

Well, the new power pairing isn't quite certain -- at least not yet.

"I have a lot of learning to do to figure out this team from the inside, not from the outside," Telesco said. "Obviously, Aidan played pretty well against us. That's a plus. But I need to get a lot more in depth with this team as far as more than just a couple games, and then talk with the staff. And we've got to do that at every position.

"That's really, probably No. 1. At least for me, I have to know this team as well as I knew the team I just came from, which I don't yet. But I'm gonna get there pretty quick."

Having seen O'Connell's performances firsthand, Pierce took a more optimistic approach to answering the question while leaving the door open for Telesco to weigh in on a final decision.

"I thought we saw growth with Aidan. At the end of the season he was playing some really good football," Pierce said. "Obviously, that led to some wins for us. But taking care of the football, being responsible, being more vocal, I think he put himself in a position to learn what it's like to be a pro in the offseason. Because he can reflect on what he just did. If he didn't have those opportunities, he would never know what mistakes he'd made.

"So I think it's a great learning tool for him. Now that we have it on film, like Tom said, to evaluate it and really look at it going forward."

It's clear these two former strangers are going to need time to learn to work with each other, a process that will occur concurrently with preparation for free agency and the draft. They aren't operating with an impossible amount of pressure on them, but after the Raiders wasted two years with Davante Adams and sent Derek Carr packing prior to the 2023 season, there is a sense of urgency to solve the quarterback conundrum before long.

They have another item to address before quarterback, too.

Pierce needs to hire an offensive coordinator that can set the Raiders on a track to success. As Pierce said Wednesday, it's not as simple as finding someone who likes to run the ball. It's about fitting a style that Telesco identified as "speed and get the ball down the field," at least, for starters.

"Just like everything else that we've done throughout this process, I honestly believe this, I don't think everybody's meant to be for the Raiders," Pierce said. "I don't think everybody's meant to play for the Raiders or coach for the Raiders. I think that's gonna be something I really dig into as we go into that process.

"But more importantly, the way the game is, 'AP wants to run the ball.' No, AP just wants to run a style of football. And run the style a certain way. It's the approach. It's being a teacher. It's being somebody that can stand in front of this room and the man that's looking at them, that they believe in the plan, and the process and that they're a teacher. And that they can adjust on the fly. Because that's what this game's about."

As the most important position in sports, quarterback will always be a top priority. O'Connell played well enough to earn a seat at the table of consideration. We'll see if they believe he's done enough to stay as a starter. If not, Pierce and Telesco's first big move might come under center.

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