Let’s say Nick Chubb is able to get past Jonathan Hankins and converts the 3rd-and-3 to seal a Browns’ victory over the Raiders a month ago in Cleveland. Or Darius Leonard finishes off a sack of Derek Carr the next week to prevent the Raiders’ most memorable play of the season, a Hunter Renfrow touchdown overturned to a preferable first-down to ice a victory in Indianapolis.
Maybe instead of juggling an overtime pass in the end zone, Chargers receiver Mike Williams brings it into his body to finish the regular season at Allegiant Stadium.
Change just one of those moments, and the Raiders don’t close the season on a four-game win streak. They don’t make the playoffs. An open coaching search ensues.
Players may have still vouched for interim coach Rich Bisaccia to keep the job like they did after their 26-19 wild-card round playoff loss to the Bengals on Saturday, but they would have to know the Raiders were going to move on.
All of this is why the “make the playoffs and get hired” setup many figured Bisaccia was operating under after taking over for Jon Gruden in the sixth week of the season is flawed. The postseason is the first objective for every NFL team, but it’s still a rather arbitrary goalpost.
Raiders owner Mark Davis therefore doesn’t owe any apologies now that it appears he’s waffling on whether to commit to Bisaccia in a permanent fashion. A week ago, Bisaccia would have been the favorite to get promoted to the full-time job. But now he must be seen as a more of a long shot after the Raiders parted ways with general manager Mike Mayock Monday afternoon.
Bisaccia will still get an interview, but he’ll now likely need to convince both Davis and the incoming general manager that he’s the right person for the job. A decision isn’t imminent for a while. Since the role technically became open after Gruden’s firing, Davis was required to interview at least two minority candidates as part of the NFL’s Rooney Rule even if he was sold on keeping Bisaccia.
“There’s due process,” Bisaccia said Monday at his season-ending news conference where he was noticeably not wearing any Raiders’ gear. “He has to interview some other candidates as I well know. I’m very respectful of the process, what it’s supposed to look like and how it’s supposed to look.”
Based on the team’s captains public support of Bisaccia, Davis may need to anticipate hearing from some of them or at least their agents as well.
“I’m biased obviously but he’s a great coach,” Pro Bowl defensive end Maxx Crosby said of Bisaccia. “He’s come in and got us to 10 wins. We came on the road in a short week and gave Cincinnati everything they could handle. It just shows Rich is a great leader, one of the best people I know, one of the most honest dudes I know. I will go to bat for him any day of the week.”
Mentioning Bisaccia in conjunction with 10 victories seems overly generous considering the Raiders won their first three games of the season under Gruden when the former was serving as special teams coordinator. They went 7-6 under Bisaccia’s watch and finished with a -65 point differential, the fourth-worst of a team to ever make the playoffs.
Bisaccia’s in-game struggles contributed to a midseason swoon, though he did improve markedly as the season went on and admitted he started to feel more comfortable.
But there were still gaffes in a winnable game at Cincinnati that a well-coached team shouldn’t make.
The Raiders were repeatedly called for penalties to halt drives in the middle of the game. At the end, quarterback Derek Carr spiked the ball at the 9-yard line to lose an extra chance to throw into the end zone in what Bisaccia referred to Monday as a “communication issue” he wished went differently. Bisaccia’s own special teams unit made a massive blunder when Peyton Barber stepped out of bounds at the 2-yard line on a kickoff return.
The players’ words mean something, and Davis would be foolish to ignore them. There have been more than enough testimonials to conclude that Bisaccia’s relationship with his players belongs in the “special” category.
But that’s only part of the gig.
“I’m not going to stand here and say, ‘No, I don’t think that’s great. I don’t appreciate that,’” Bisaccia said of his players lobbying for him to get the job. “But it was never asked for. In fact, there were meetings that we had where I almost kind of explicitly told them, ‘Don’t do that,’ or ‘You don’t have to do that. That’s not why we’re all here. We’re here to put ourselves in an opportunity to win games.’”
And the Raiders wound up in the nebulous position where they neither won enough games to prove Bisaccia deserves to stay in his spot nor lost enough to rule him out. There are certainly more reasons to retain him beyond catering to the roster.
For another hypothetical, let’s pretend Gruden didn’t cancel himself and played out his full fourth season in his second stint with the Raiders. If the Raiders finished the same way they did under Bisaccia at 10-7 with a close playoff loss to the Bengals, Gruden wouldn’t be at any risk of leaving.
The season would have likely been described as another example of Las Vegas moving in the right direction via incremental progress. Why doesn’t Bisaccia deserve the same benefit of the doubt?
It’s not a perfect parallel because, of course, Bisaccia isn’t tied to the 10-year, $100 million contract Gruden infamously signed. But that might be another plus in Bisaccia’s favor considering he could likely be locked up to coach with a contract at both a smaller price and length than NFL average.
Asked about staying in his role long-term going into the playoffs, the 61-year-old Bisaccia joked he didn’t think he’d be watching much football in as few as six years. If Davis’ search doesn’t reveal his ideal choice, there could be far worse fallbacks than keeping the beloved coach on a short deal.
Davis has dealt with difficult situations involving the Raiders all season, and now it’s ending with another one. There’s no clear answer on what to do with Bisaccia.
“I think continuity and consistency in any profession can be a good thing, but we all know what we’re skirting around,” Bisaccia said. “I’m in the position I’m in. I’m sure Mark and I are going to have more conversations as the week goes on as we did (Sunday night) and we’ll see how that thing works out.”