Rich Bisaccia took over as interim head coach of the Raiders after Jon Gruden was fired mid-season.
Under Bisaccia’s guidance, the Raiders reached the playoffs for the first time in four years.
Players love Bisaccia and have openly campaigned for him to keep the job.
Rich Bisaccia didn’t expect any of this.
Heading into the 2021 season, Bisaccia was the special teams coordinator for the Las Vegas Raiders, an assistant under head coach Jon Gruden.
Then, Gruden resigned in the middle of the season after reports in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times report detailed emails from Gruden in which he repeatedly used racist and homophobic language.
With little warning, Bisaccia was elevated to interim head coach, inheriting a team with a 3-2 record battling in one of the toughest divisions in all of football.
Interim head coaches are usually nothing more than a placeholder. Since the organization can’t overhaul itself in the middle of a season, the interim coach serves to get you to the offseason, tip his cap, and hand the keys over to the next blockbuster hire.
But Bisaccia’s term as interim head coach was immediately different. After the Raiders won their first two games with Bisaccia at head coach, quarterback and team captain Derek Carr used his post-game interview to openly campaign for Bisaccia.
“He has the ear of the locker room. He has the pulse, he has the heartbeat, and he’s our leader,” Carr said. “We would love for him to still be our head coach for the future.”
The off-field troubles didn’t end with Gruden’s firing
At the start of November, wide receiver Henry Ruggs III was arrested and charged with “DUI resulting in death” after being involved in a fiery car wreck in Nevada. A few days later, the team released cornerback Damon Arnette after a video on social media appeared to show him brandishing a gun and threatening to kill a person.
Twice in one season, no one would have forgiven the Raiders for packing things in and looking towards a fresh start in 2022. But with Bisaccia at the helm, the Raiders kept moving forward.
After losing five of six games in the middle of the season, Las Vegas rattled off four straight wins to end the year and secure their first postseason berth since 2016.
Raiders players again went to bat for Bisaccia
“I love having him as my head coach, and he’s somebody I’ve been able to go to for advice from day one from the time I came here three years ago,” defensive end Maxx Crosby said, per Sports Illustrated. “He’s the same guy every single day, works his ass off and keeps things real, doesn’t sugarcoat anything.
“You know he’s in your corner no matter what, and all the guys in the locker room really respond to him.”
“He’s just a leader of men,” wide receiver Hunter Renfrow told NBC Sports’ Jac Collinsworth this week. “He cares about us.”
“He just has the perfect thing to say at the right times. No matter how it is, he can connect with people. We need to get that narrative started to maybe win a game here, and he can remove that interim tag.”
The deep relationship Bisaccia has developed with his players is even present on the field during games, as evidenced by this heartwarming exchange with receiver Zay Jones on the sidelines.
The type of support Bisaccia gets from his players feels different from your average player talking about your average coach. These are not empty platitudes. These are the team leaders, saying out loud to anyone who will listen, “We love this guy. We want him as our head coach and are trying to win to make that happen.”
Whether the Raiders’ front office will agree with the players’ assessment is another story
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Bisaccia already believed himself a long shot to keep his job even after the Raiders’ surprise postseason appearance.
Like his father Al Davis before him, Raiders owner Mark Davis likes to make a splash. Jon Gruden was such a hiring, as was the mammoth contract that he received in the process. It’s possible that given the opportunity, Davis would again be looking to make a blockbuster play, with Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh being the biggest potential name floated around in this year’s NFL coaching carousel.
But while keeping Bisaccia might not be the headline-grabbing move that the Raiders have made throughout their history, it could be the right one for this team at this moment.
Leaders on the team are all but pleading with their own front office to keep Bisaccia in his spot. Time and time again, when this year’s campaign could have gone off the rails, Bisaccia had his team ready to play, earning them a postseason date against the Cincinnati Bengals.
As things stand, it’s still unclear whether Bisaccia did enough to keep his job in the eyes of the people making the decision.
If he can secure the Raiders their first playoff win since 2002 this weekend, the calls for his return will only get louder.
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