Raiders Fire HC Josh McDaniels, GM Dave Ziegler; Grades Within

Starting next year, I’ll have one page for coach grades and one for GM grades instead of just making those pages for Black Monday and grading everyone else individually. But for now, we’re doing it this way. Late last night, news broke that Raiders owner Mark Davis fired head coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler. Given their relatively short tenures (under 2 years each) and the timing, the announcement was quite a surprise. I’ll grade each of these moves separately below and discuss why they were made, what they mean, and what happens next.

Josh McDaniels

McDaniels first became a head coach with the Denver Broncos in 2009, but he lasted less than 2 seasons. Many found him to be immature and unprepared, suggesting that maybe he made the leap too soon. He’d find his footing as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator in 2012, where he excelled for many years. After interviewing with the Colts for their HC job in 2018, he accepted their offer. However, he stunningly withdrew the very same day and remained with New England. Clearly, he didn’t think he had found the right fit, and he was being really careful about choosing his next destination. McDaniels knew he probably wouldn’t get a 3rd chance if he messed up his second.

Ironically, despite his planning, he wound up in another rocky situation and is out of a job less than 2 years after being named the head coach. Las Vegas felt like a peculiar choice from the start. He wasn’t in a position to win immediately with the Chiefs sharing the same division, and the roster had plenty of holes. McDaniels was also dealing with a roster that had wanted interim HC Rich Bissacia to be named the permanent coach. Bissacia’s team had rallied to the playoffs with a 10-7 record. McDaniels would undo all of that progress and finish 6-11 in his first season, but how he got there was even worse.

He and his GM (discussed below) remade the roster, jettisoning reliable players and bringing in guys who fit the “Patriot Way”. His offense was never built to fit his players, and top contributors suddenly went cold. WR Hunter Renfrow has been nonexistent since McDaniels arrived, and Davante Adams is absent this year. Adams’ lack of production despite his still excellent ability might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, but it was how McDaniels treated Adams’ friend and QB Derek Carr the prior year that portended this ugly ending.

In the midst of the Raiders’ lost season in 2022, McDaniels benched Carr, possibly to prevent an injury that would’ve guaranteed his full 2023 salary. He even made Carr’s wife cry. Quitting on the season like that didn’t reflect well, and Carr was released shortly after. With new QB Jimmy Garoppolo, the offense has been even worse. Not once in 2023 has LV reached 20 points of offense. For a supposed offense guru like McDaniels, that’s especially damning. Coming off perhaps their most putrid performance yet in a loss to Detroit, Davis had no choice but to fire McDaniels and send OC Mick Lombardi with him.

As much as I feel for these coaches and their families (they’re people too you know), I can’t find much bad to say about this move. Other than money, the Raiders aren’t losing anything here. McDaniels has repeatedly proven that he is not a good head coach. Davis made a terrible mistake in not retaining Bisaccia. Imagine the outcome had he just kept his interim HC: Carr would still be in town, Davante Adams would be happy, and the team would be better off overall. None of that is pat of the grade here. Only the McDaniels move itself is being evaluated.

There is a direct correlation between the hiring of McDaniels and the decline of the Raiders. One can argue that the team was never as good as its 10-7 record in 2021, but that’s not the point. Even if we account for regression to the mean, this team has gotten much worse. If anything, Davis made this move too late. This dumpster fire was evident by the end of last season and should’ve been dealt with then. They say “better late than never” though, and that’s the case here. I applaud Davis for taking the financial hit to right by his franchise.

McDaniels will be fine; after all, the Raiders owe him the money due for the final 4 years of his contract. I doubt we’ll ever see him as a head coach again though; he struggles mightily in that role, but he’s a great OC. LV is naming LB coach Antonio Pierce as the interim HC. Never even a coordinator at the NFL level, Pierce is an interesting choice. I expect the Raiders to bottom out to try and earn a top draft pick. Garoppolo has been benched so the team can evaluate rookie QB Aidan O’Connell. For a successful future though, LV needs to hit on its next permanent HC.

Grade: A+

Dave Ziegler

This analysis will be much more succinct, as a GM mainly assembles the roster and then steps back. Yet another New England director of player personnel to become the top executive of another team, Ziegler came in and immediately converted the Raiders to a Patriot outpost. That’s just what all former NE coaches and front office people do. Predictably, that paradigm failed much like most of the others. In fact, I think only Titans HC Mike Vrabel is having any sort of sustained success. Hired a day after fellow Patriot Josh McDaniels, Ziegler immediately set out to rebuild the roster. Never mind that LV was a playoff team a year earlier.

Ziegler has personally overseen the destruction of the LV roster. He traded premium draft capital for Adams and then immediately angered him by dumping his friend and QB Carr. Shortly thereafter, he signed OLB Chandler Jones to a 3-year deal, only to watch his mental health devolve. Jones was released earlier this year without playing a game in 2023. His drafts have also been poor. The 2022 class provided nothing but maybe a low-end starting G (Dylan Parham). It’s too early to judge the 2023 class, but the returns are not promising.

Regarding veterans, Ziegler signed WR Hunter Renfrow to a 2-year extension, even though his coach didn’t use him. He extended TE Darren Waller on a 3-year deal but traded him to the Giants less than a year later. Perhaps his biggest sin was signing Garoppolo. He was never more than a lateral shift from Carr, but in this offense, he has been a downgrade. It hasn’t helped that Ziegler tore apart a once-promising offensive line. To make matters worse, he still hasn’t fixed the poor defense he inherited either. The roster is in shambles on both sides of the ball, with few cornerstones to build around.

Between McDaniels and Ziegler, I assign more of the blame to the former. McDaniels failed to properly utilize even his good players, which played a larger role in the team’s dysfunction. Ziegler still did a bad job though, and he didn’t provide his coach with much in the way of talent. I’d say that Ziegler deserved a bit more time to work on his rebuild, but that would’ve involved him picking the next coach (or at least having a significant role in doing so). With that in mind, Davis needed to clean house and start fresh. A more professional regime would be ideal.

Grade: A

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