Father's Day Is Everyday for Las Vegas Raiders Coach Antonio Pierce

Las Vegas Raiders Coach Antonio Pierce is making a positive and significant impact on the legendary franchise, far greater than just in wins and losses.
Las Vegas Raiders Coach Antonio Smith
Las Vegas Raiders Coach Antonio Smith / Darrell Craig Harris, Sports Illustrated
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HENDERSON, Nev.—When Mark Davis decided to make Antonio Pierce his permanent head football coach, he knew what he meant to football, but perhaps he didn’t realize that the new man at the helm of the Silver and Black ship was going to change lives, as a father.

Sadly, we live in a society where, regardless of money, race, or geographic location in the nation, fatherhood is being minimized and often overlooked.  It is an epidemic, but in this dark time, Pierce stands tall.

Pierce is a man comfortable in his skin.  He is the most authentic person you will ever meet in a synthetic world.

The superstar Super Bowl-winning player turned NFL head coach has not allowed the money, success, and notoriety to change who he is.

You know Antonio Pierce, the personality, star athlete, and coach, but the man who grabbed the hearts of Raider Nation has learned that all of that comes to an end.

Who he is is more important.  He explained that back in January, saying, “You can be yourself, you can do things a certain way, and they can work. You don't have to be the cookie cutter, and I'm not going to be. If I'm staying here, that's not going to be me. And I don't want our players or our staff to be like that. That's what brings the building the life. That's what allows us to come to work today every day with a smile and ready to work."

People are often confused with the man that I fortunately call my friend. What you see on TV is genuine, but it is far from who he is.

You are free to criticize him for football decisions and things on the gridiron as you choose, but the man deserves respect for being a shining light of integrity in a dark time.

Pierce is a fierce competitor. He competes at everything, and unfortunately, people like him are rare. As much as he wants to hoist a Lombardi Trophy as the head coach of his beloved childhood franchise, he wants to win even more as a husband and a father.

This may shock you as you are used to seeing the ferocious linebacker decapitate opponents with a mindset of destruction on par with Maxx Crosby as a player.  This may shock you as the charismatic and unabashed coach of the feared Silver and Black.

But to those who know him, it doesn’t surprise them.

At the heart of who he is, Antonio Pierce is more than a football player and a coach.  He is a people person with a heart ten times bigger than his persona.

Pierce can’t hide it.  It is part of his makeup.  At times in his life, he has been let down by his dedication to people, his caring for others, and his massive heart.  People have let him down, but with the same energy you see on the football field, he doesn’t quit.  He is relentless.

His star defensive end, Maxx Crosby, described him like that to me last year, saying, “AP is relentless. He is a warrior. He doesn’t quit.”

The perpetually optimistic Pierce understands that the same relentless way in which he attacked football is how you must live.

Pierce can’t give up; it isn’t in his DNA. So, the man who has never had anything given to him, who has had to scratch and claw for everything he has, has learned that being relentless is the key to success.

But he understands that being relentless can’t be at the expense of people and, more importantly, those he loves.

He loves relentlessly.

While putting his staff together to lead the Silver and Black, he made a hire that the ignorant quickly criticized as nepotism.  He hired his oldest son, De’Andre Pierce, as an offensive assistant.

Make no mistake, the superstar father wasn’t giving him anything he didn’t deserve; it was earned, making hiring his son even more critical for the proud father.

Want to see Pierce smile even more significantly than he does after a big win?  

Feb 3, 2008; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce (58) after winning Super Bowl XLII at the University of Phoenix Stadium. New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots with a final of 17-14.   Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 3, 2008; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce (58) after winning Super Bowl XLII at the University of Phoenix Stadium. New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots with a final of 17-14. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports / John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Get him to talk about his beloved wife, Jocelyn, or his seven children, and his entire demeanor shines brighter than when he hoisted the Lombardi Trophy as a Super Bowl winner.

Pierce is a relentless family man.

He told me earlier this week, "It's cool. I'm fortunate to be an only child. I'm also fortunate I had a lot of children. And when I played, I had De'Andre [Pierce] at 18 years old. So, sophomore year of college, you've got a son, I'm chasing my career goal and there's a lot of things I missed. There's a lot of graduations, performances, practices I couldn't take him too.”

But missing those key life moments was not going to continue forever.  His family is more important than the game, and Pierced added, “I didn't want a chance that when I got older and I finished playing that I missed those again.”

Earlier this year, while we were in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine, I asked Peirce about the pride he felt in being able to hire his son and, even better, that he had earned the job.

“It was cool,” as this proud father looked down to retain his composure.  “The entire time I played, I couldn’t be that. The way I wanted to.  Because I was playing, I never got to see his Pop Warner games.”

Every father in the world knows the pains of regret.  Children don’t come with directions; even today, you can still see the hurt Pierce feels for those absences.  

He continued, “I missed dances; I missed taking him to school.  I missed a lot of stuff, and he knows that.”

Pierce then, being reflective, offered a dynamic assessment of his journey starting as a father: “I had him when I was young; I had him when I was eighteen years old. He grew up with me.”   

Pierce added, “He was at the Pro Bowls, he was at the Super Bowls and it is cool to see your son one, reach his dream of going to college, and having a tryout with the NFL, had a tryout with the Raiders, obviously.  Got to coaching.  He went to Cal Poly, then to TCU, Boise State, and then there is opportunity.”

For Pierce, the potential critics, as he has demonstrated his entire life, don’t matter.  While they criticize, Pierce does.

De’Andre might be a coach on the Raiders because Antonio Pierce is his father, but to minimize all that he has done and say it was simply an act of nepotism, makes anyone who feels that way look simply ignorant.

Pierce is relentless, he is a winner, and he knows that putting De’Andre on offense, and at the bottom is right where the Pierce’s shine.

Put them in a difficult situation, where the only thing that can make them succeed is their work ethic, and they will win every time. The Pierce family genes are relentless.

Antonio didn’t hire a young coach who didn’t earn it; he hired a young coach who has been molded in his character and shadow of him. This reporter would argue, on a staff that has several young coaches, Antonio Pierce had the least risk with De'Andre because he personally know him, what motivates him, and his work ethic.

Antonio Pierce sees what De'Andre Pierce is made of every morning, when he looks in the mirror to shave.

One player told me, “I think AP is harder on De’Andre because he wants him to be great.  He is hard on us, and he is hard on ‘D.’ I mean, he put him on offense to start; he isn’t making it easy for him.”

Senior defensive assistant Rob Ryan described Pierce earlier this week.

“Because he's real. Like, he's real. Now this is the genuine article, he’s straight out of Compton, literally, so he's a complete badass, and he’s just great people. But he wants our players and our coaches to be themselves, so that's what's great. Like, he's not changing. You are who you are…but he wants you to be yourself and bring them all together and create a culture that is awesome to see and be a part of, and I've been through a lot of them, but I just absolutely love what he's doing.”

Ryan went on and echoed the player's sentiment about De’Andre. “He's a star, and then he's got a son that’s going to be brilliant. Right now, he's on offense. I'm sure he'll be switching to defense because that's where he probably belongs, but he's special. You see him. He's real. Like, oh, it’s coach talk. He ain't boring nobody. He is going to be himself, and he’s going to make us winners.”

I asked De’Andre about earning his job, and what it means to go to work with him every day. 

“Being able to work with him, at all three levels (High School, College, and NFL) as a player or coach has absolutely been a dream.  I see him at home, the dad, and then we get to the facility, and we are in football mode and it is totally different.”

The younger Pierce added, “Me and him, obviously I am his son, but we are so like-minded, in terms of our mindset, mentality, and everything that comes with it, that part has been amazing.”

This would be a fantastic story if we ended there.  But we can’t.

As usual with AP, there is always more to the story.

During OTAs, a player told me when I privately asked about AP, “I never really had a dad. I watch him working hard, and he will yell something at De’Andre, and he came running over, and when it was over, he gave him a hug. I love that he pushes him like a player, but he is really warm and loving. It makes me want to be like that as a dad one day.”

There it is—the same thing that saw him rise from an under-recruited college star to an overlooked UDFA in the NFL and become a legendary Icon as the man who led to the defeat of what many believed was the greatest team in NFL history on the biggest stage of the Super Bowl.

Everywhere Pierce has been, he has led from the front. He is relentless.

Devin Thomas was a receiver on the New York Giants with Pierce, and he told me, “AP was the man. The way he led, not just football, everything, he was and is the real deal.”

Antonio Pierce isn’t just changing the Raiders franchise. He is leading them out of twenty years of wallowing in the proverbial wilderness; he is leading the way.

Restoring a proud and Iconic franchise, teaching young men how to be great in football where money and fame are fleeting, and being their best on and off of the football field.

Antonio Pierce loves the game of football. But not more than family. He has his priorities right.

Not everything in his life has been fair, but on the football field, his relentless commitment allowed him to achieve greatness because that is only about results.

No one, nowhere will outwork Antonio Pierce.  At anything.

That includes family. While our nation struggles under the weight of so many failing to be fathers and family men, once again, you find Pierce.

At the front.  Leading, relentless.

Pierce loves his Super Bowl and playing success.  He loves the Raiders franchise and fans.

He cherishes his family.  That balance, that maturity, and that success make him more than a coach.

He may not win a Super Bowl, but he admits that coaches “Get hired to get fired.”  But Pierce will do the most important thing well.

Being a family man.  A dad.

He told me this week, “Listen, the opportunity came up, you put him (De’Andre) on the staff, you put him at the bottom of the list, make him do the simple things, the hard things, things he's not comfortable with. He's over there coaching the O-line getting the hell beat out of him by Jackson [Powers[1]Johnson], getting thrown out the club.”

Some would say that is excellent coaching by Pierce, and I agree.

But more importantly, it is good fathering.  The latter is more critical to Pierce than the former.

Raider Nation hired the best man to lead this franchise, and only time will tell us how successful he will be.

But in life, and in demonstrating to his team how to maintain balance in the high-dollar world of professional football, and to all the fans, he is showing more.

As usual, from the front, Antonio Pierce is showing what family is all about.  At home, and inside the walls that he now leads.

Happy Father's Day, AP, you’ve earned it.

Antonio Pierce is wealthy and now, more famous than ever, and still has his priorities.

Football success hasn’t changed him, but perhaps, and hopefully, he is changing the people in football.

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Hondo Carpenter

HONDO CARPENTER

Hondo S. Carpenter Sr. is an award-winning sports journalist who brings decades of experience to his role as editor and publisher, and beat writer for our Las Vegas Raiders and the NFL coverage. Carpenter is a member of the PFWA, FWAA, and USBWA.