Don’t be fooled by the muscular physique. Antonio Pierce no longer plays football. He coaches linebackers for the Raiders.
Even though he looks like he could still rack up 10 tackles on any Sunday.
“I’m still in pretty good shape. I can do it physically,” Pierce said last week, knowing he can credibly demonstrate the techniques he teaches during practice. “It’s kind of a blessing for me to go out there and walk with them and talk to them.
“But above all, I think they understand me and relate to me as a former player, but respect me and their coach at the same time.”
The transition seems seamless for the former Pro Bowl inside linebacker, who, at 43, displays palpable excitement about his first NFL coaching opportunity. He was an “on-court coach” for the nine seasons he played for the Washington Commanders and New York Giants.
Why wouldn’t coaching be natural for a lifelong sports student?
“I sat there, and I probably did the hours like the coaches, but I was in the fucking building as much as those guys and I was studying and preparing, making sure that as defense, we saw things the same way.” he said. “As coaches you can tell guys one thing, but when those guys get between the lines, they have to see it the same way.
“And for me, that transition, I would say, was pretty easy.”
From player to coach
Raiders freshman coach Josh McDaniels brings a championship coaching pedigree to Las Vegas, bolstered by six Super Bowl wins as offensive coordinator in New England, as well as three Super Bowl losses.
Pierce captained the first team to beat McDaniels’ almighty Patriots, holding quarterback Tom Brady’s historically excellent offense to 14 points en route to New York’s stunning Super Bowl XLII victory.
Count Peyton Manning and Tony Romo among other opposing quarterbacks who have tested Pierce’s preparation. Plus two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning, who played five years alongside Pierce — and against him in Giants practices.
“There were a lot of chess matches (when) we faced each other,” Pierce said. “So I really prepared myself when I played as a coach.”
But first a few years as an analyst for ESPN after retiring in 2010. Then four years as a high school coach in his native Southern California.
Then four years as linebacker coach, defensive coordinator and associate head coach under Herman Edwards at Arizona State.
“Just like you learn to be a pro as a player, learning to be a professional coach is the same thing,” Pierce said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in college, but how you prepare, how you detail, how you check all the extra grades, tick the I’s and the T’s, those are things I brought here with me.”
Shape a culture
Alas, that attention to detail is something Raiders linebackers can look to, along with the championship pedigree and natural charisma that has helped Pierce to this point. He says he’s a proud Raiders fan, having grown up in Los Angeles during the franchise’s 13 years in the city.
Proud coach now too, tasked with shaping the culture McDaniels wants to build.
Only Denzel Perryman and Divine Deablo return from last year’s squad, giving Pierce the chance to form a relatively new squad under defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.
“You’re always kinda fair” OK, what’s next? And once that happens, everyone becomes a sponge, right? said Pierce.
“Everyone wants more information, and that makes the dialogue in the room more important.”
Especially with Pierce part of it.