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February 7, 2023

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Interim or not, Rich Bisaccia has come into his own as Raiders’ coach

Better coaching decisions have been a big part of four-game win streak

Raiders vs Eagles

Wade Vandervort

Las Vegas Raiders interim coach Rich Bisaccia talks with Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Hunter Renfrow (13) prior to an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Allegiant Stadium Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021.

Raiders Defeat Chargers, 35-32, in Overtime

Las Vegas Raiders safety Roderic Teamer (33) celebrates on the field during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. Launch slideshow »

The Raiders’ offense stalled after a muffed punt gave it the ball just outside the red zone early in Sunday night’s playoff-clinching win over the Chargers. With a fourth-and-2 from the 15-yard line, many at Allegiant Stadium reflexively looked to the sideline expecting to see kicker Daniel Carlson leading the field goal unit out onto the field.

That didn’t happen.

Raiders interim coach Rich Bisaccia left his offense on the field, trusting Derek Carr to make a play. Carr ultimately did, completing a short pass to Zay Jones that led to an all-important touchdown two plays later in what turned out to be extremely close game.

Bisaccia has gotten far more willing to take risks over the last month, and the Raiders have been rewarded with a four-game winning streak leading into their 1:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday at Cincinnati in the AFC wild-card playoff round.

“I think a lot of people do a much better job of explaining me than I do, to be honest with you,” Bisaccia said when asked of his newfound aggression. “I feel like we’ve had a good belief system in the package we’ve had, whether it would be (quarterbacks) Derek (Carr) or Marcus (Mariota) with some of the things we were trying to do on offense.”

The aforementioned calls to go for it, along with a handful of others from during the Raiders’ winning streak, aren’t considered surprising in the modern, more mathematically-inclined NFL. But they were surprising for Bisaccia, who was risk-averse to a fault after taking over for Jon Gruden as Raiders’ coach midseason.

His poor in-game decision-making came to a head at the tail end of a 1-5 stretch that seemed to torpedo Las Vegas’ season. In the penultimate loss, Bisaccia made two of the three worst calls in the league that week per Edjsports’ win-probability model when he twice decided to punt on fourth-and-short at the 48-yard line against Washington.

Las Vegas ended up losing 17-15, with the small margin implying that one better decision could have been the difference. The Raiders stood no chance the next week in Kansas City, where they lost 48-9, but Bisaccia’s decision to kick a field goal down 35-0 at the end of the first half drew widespread mockery and scorn.

Bisaccia acknowledged the criticism and explained his reasoning — he didn’t feel the Raiders were out of it and wanted the team to score some points as a boost — but ever since, it appears something has changed. He hasn’t made many, if any, glaring strategic mistakes.    

“I think we have to grow, right?” Bisaccia said in a news conference Monday. “If we don't grow, if we don't have a sense of humility and listen and learn and grow and improve then you stay the same. And none of us stay the same. I don't think I've changed. I think I've learned a lot.”

Because Bisaccia is an interim coach hired without a proper search, the Raiders will be required to interview candidates for the permanent job at the end of their season. But it’s going to be difficult for owner Mark Davis to hire someone over the 61-year-old Bisaccia after he helped lead the franchise to its first playoff berth in five years.

The players will certainly not be in favor of a coaching change.

Coaches are often judged by their gameday management, but there’s so much else that goes into the job that no one ever sees. By all accounts, Bisaccia is a master at the less visible aspects, particularly as it pertains to building personal relationships with his players.

Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley had never worked with Bisaccia until this season, but he knew his reputation after spending the last four years with the Chargers. Bisaccia hadn’t been with the Chargers since 2012 but still maintained a relationship with famed quarterback Philip Rivers, which impressed Bradley.

“He just has unique ability to really relate to anybody from any walk of life,” Bradley said. “He's authentic as it comes. And that's what the players appreciate the most, I think. They know what they're getting every day. I really think it’s his leadership through our challenging times, his consistency.”

Even before he was the Raiders’ head coach, Bisaccia had an open-door policy with his office at the team’s Henderson headquarters where players could come discuss whatever was on their mind. Many took him up on it, including star edge rusher Maxx Crosby, who built a bond with Bisaccia during his rookie season when the team was still in Oakland.  

“That dude has had my back,” Crosby said. “He’s had so many players’ backs for years and I love him to death.”

A few players mentioned how much calmer the sideline got once Bisaccia replaced Gruden, who was always highly animated and constantly yelling. Bisaccia is the opposite, staying stoic no matter what happens in the game.

Bradley said that characteristic has been a positive and something the team has adopted to repeatedly help them through adversity.

“They just know when they walk in the building what they’re getting from him every day,” Bradley said. “Accountability is not an issue with him on the field, with the players, and they understand the expectations and the standard, and there's no flinch on his part of it.”

Bisaccia has become the first person since Wally Lemm in 1961 with the Houston Oilers to lead a team to the playoffs after not being the coach coming into the season. He couldn’t have done it without his willingness to grow, specifically with his in-game decisions.

He may not like describing what’s changed or talking about his journey over the course of the season, but plenty of others jump at the opportunity to speak for him.  

“If you’re a bad teammate or you don’t try hard, you’re probably not going to like him,” Carr said. “It's a good thing that we have a lot of guys that are good teammates and do try hard because you end up liking your head coach when he is the way that he is. So, we love him, and we've tried to embrace everything that he's teaching us.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or

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