Antonio Pierce, From High School to NFL Head Coach in Ten Years

Antonio Pierce was always known as an intelligent player even before his time in the NFL. Coming up from Mount Saint Antonio College, he eventually landed at Arizona University for his senior season. During this one season he had 77 tackles, 3 sacks, two forced fumbles, 1 interception, and blocked a kick.

This one year with Arizona helped increase his visibility to coaches and GM’s in the NFL, although it wasn’t enough to get him drafted. He would end up un-drafted signing a UDFA deal with the Washington Redskins (at the time), the rest as they say is history.

Antonio Pierce a Picture of Success

Upon entering the NFL as an undrafted rookie, Pierce made an impression immediately. He not only made the roster, but he would play in all 16 games, starting 8 by the end of the season. He collected 53 tackles, 2 for a loss, 4 pass break ups, 1 sack, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, and 1 recovery. This season as a part-time starter earned him even more playing time going forward, but he didn’t take a full-time starting job until 2004, his fourth year in the league.

In 2004, starter Michael Barrow suffered an injury that paved the way for Pierce to ignite his career. In his final season with Washington he would start all 16 games, setting career highs in tackles (114), tackles for a loss (3), fumble recoveries (2), pass deflections (5), interceptions (2), return yards (96), and touchdowns (1). This would solidify his place in a starting lineup going forward, it just wouldn’t be in Washington.

Free Agency Sends him to a Divisional Foe

In 2005 he was signed by the New York Giants keeping him in the NFC East division, and allowing him to play his former team at least twice a year. He immediately became a captain of the defense, and a leader on the team for the Giants. This would end up being the last team he would ever play with in the NFL.

After signing with the Giants he started every game he was active for over the next five seasons for New York. This culminated in 69 total starts, 491 tackles, including 34 tackles for a loss, 7 sacks, 7 fumble recoveries, 7 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 33 pass deflections, 4 interceptions, and 1 more defensive touchdown. Pierce not only took hold of a starting position he was better with the Giants than he was in Washington.

In 2009, two seasons after winning a Super Bowl with New York, Pierce suffered a from a bulging disk in his neck which forced the Giants to place him on injured reserve. This injury actually would lead to the end of his NFL Career, as he was released the following offseason, and chose to retire rather than play for another team and risk further injury.

Pierce retired having defied all odds as an undrafted free agent who went on to play 9 seasons in the NFL, and do so at a very high level. He was well respected, and when he stepped away, it was into a job with ESPN. He would spend some time in broadcasting before transitioning into coaching.

High School Coaching

In 2014, just five seasons after his retirement, he was named the Head Coach of a nationally recognized high school program in California. Long Beach Polytechnic High School is known for it’s football program, and Pierce was able to jump into coaching in this prestigious position. His first season went well, with an 11-2 record.

After this the struggles began, and he would take his lumps for three more seasons. His second season the team missed the playoffs altogether. In 2017-2018 they made the playoffs both years, but were knocked out in embarrassing fashion both times. By 2019, his Arizona State University had offered him a position on their staff, and he chose to resign from Long Beach.

College Coaching

He was hired to serve under Herm Edwards former NFL Head Coach with the Jets, and Chiefs. Immediately hired to oversee his former position of linebacker, he also served as the recruiting coordinator for his first two seasons. Several of his players from this initial season would go on to play professional football. The Sundevils posted an admirable 7-4 record.

The following season Pierce brought in several of his former students at Long Beach Poly as recruits, and it would help the team improve to 8 wins. The team was so impressed Pierce received a promotion to Co-Defensive Coordinator AND Associate Head Coach, while still serving as Recruiting Coordinator, and Linebackers Coach. Quite the full plate for 2020. However he worked hand in hand with Marvin Lewis former NFL DC/HC for many years.

Transitioning from a base 3-3-5 defense to a more traditional 4-3 defense the team struggled in a covid 19 shortened season finishing 2-2. The following season, Lewis transitioned into a Special Advisor role, and Pierce was allowed to be the Defensive Coordinator. The program returned to its winning ways posting another 8 win season.

NFL Coaching Career

It was at this point that the Raiders came calling. With a new head coach in tow, Josh McDaniels. McDaniels had been a head coach in the past, but this time he had branched out from the Patriots Coaching Tree and spent some time under other coaches before getting his next opportunity.

McDaniels also brought with him Dave Ziegler from the Patriots. Ziegler was hired to be the General Manager. Meaning the Patriots lost two of their top personnel guys in back-to-back seasons to AFC rivals in Houston, and Las Vegas. This also meant a whole new staff was imported at McDaniels’ discretion.

Patrick Graham was hired as defensive coordinator, Mick Lombardi as offensive coordinator, and Tom McMahon as Special Teams Coordinator. Graham a former Giants coach had crossed paths with Pierce in the past, and this time brought Pierce in to oversee his linebackers after two seasons running a college defense.

Proof is in the Pudding

In 2022, his first year on the job the Raiders tasked him with fixing the linebacker group with just two players returning: Divine Diablo a converted safety, and Denzel Perryman a veteran linebacker. They went out and signed Micah Kiser from the Rams, Kyler Fackrell from the Chargers, and Jayon Brown from the Titans. They didn’t draft anyone at linebacker, opting for cheaper middle of the pack veterans.

Perryman and Deablo ended up reminding us why they were the only men left standing before 2022. Perryman created four turnovers, 1 sack, and 83 tackles, Deablo only played in 8 games but racked up 74 tackles averaging over 9 tackles per game. Jayon Brown played in 8 games starting 6 and managed 45 tackles, 1 pass break up, and 1 fumble recovery. Blake Martinez played 4 games, starting 2 and corralled 20 ball carriers.

This season they brought in Robert Spillane with Denzel Perryman leaving via free agency. Spillane has led all Raiders linebackers, and the team in tackles so far with Divine Deablo right on his heels. Spillane has also added 2 interceptions tied for the team lead. The Raiders have shied away from three linebacker sets with Luke Masterson the third linebacker with just 14 tackles. Only one other linebacker has logged any stats with Amari Burney racking up 6 tackles in 1 game.

For what he’s been asked to do, you have to give Pierce credit for the performances he’s gotten from guys who had not been full-time starters until signing with the Raiders. Pierce took a bunch of misfits and special teams stars and turned it into a serviceable linebacker corps.

The Raiders are giving Pierce a chance to show what he can do as an interim Head Coach, but with very little experience running the show at this level. My hope is Pierce realizes his role as the Head Coach is to oversee everything not micro manage everything. Allow your coordinators more freedom, allow them to run their units nearly autonomously, and simply focus on doing your job. Pierce is very lucky to have quality coaches around him, even if it hasn’t translated to wins, this staff is experienced, and respected across the board.

Update: The Raiders have also fired OC Mick Lombardi. Reports are that the Raiders will also go to Aiden O’Connell as the starting Quarterback.

Raiders have promoted QB Coach Bo Hardegree to Offensive Coordinator.

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