May 26, 2024

Josh McDaniels’ bad decisions lead to Raiders firing: What’s next?

The last image of Josh McDaniels as an NFL head coach will be from Monday night. Las Vegas Raiders receiver Davante Adams had gotten himself open for two long touchdowns in the second half against the Lions, only for hand-picked McDaniels favorite Jimmy Garoppolo to misfire on both his throws. The first, under heavy pressure from Aidan Hutchinson, landed 2 yards out of bounds. The second landed 2 yards past Adams’ fingertips. The star wideout went to the sideline, slammed his helmet on the bench and very visibly said he was tired of something I’ll summate as the Raiders experience.

Fast-forward to 24 hours later, and it turned out that Mark Davis was tired of that experience, too. The Raiders owner stunningly fired McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler on Tuesday night, ending the former Patriots coordinator’s head-coaching gig after 25 games, less than two seasons into a six-year contract. McDaniels went 9-16 as the Raiders’ coach, a step down from his 11-17 mark in 28 games with the Broncos (2009-10), where he was also fired halfway through his second campaign.

On the merits of their record and the season they’ve had so far, McDaniels and Ziegler did not deserve to go. They’ve been middling, sure, but plenty of coaches have done worse before improving. Davis didn’t fire Jon Gruden after he started 11-21 in his second gig with the Raiders. Kyle Shanahan was 10-22 across his first two seasons with the 49ers. Dan Campbell, who handed McDaniels his final loss, started his Lions career 4-19-1. He has gone 13-4 since then. Plenty of coaches have gotten off to slow starts and turned things around.

Instead, the case for firing McDaniels and Ziegler is more comprehensive. I’m not sure a coach and general manager have ever gotten as many of their big decisions wrong over the first two years of their tenure than the now-deposed Raiders pairing. Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s easy to use hindsight to correct calls, but many of the decisions they made looked foolish even in the moment. Running through them in chronological order gives us a brief history of the regime and why the pair is out in Las Vegas.

 

McDaniels inherits fool’s gold

Depending on how you view the roster McDaniels inherited, you could argue that Vegas’ collapse over the past two seasons has been even more dramatic than a middling win-loss record. The 2021 Raiders made it to the playoffs! Las Vegas won its last four games, including that famous Week 18 overtime game over the Chargers, to sneak into the postseason. There, it went down 20-6 to the Bengals before launching a comeback and getting in position for the game-tying score, only for Derek Carr to throw an interception on fourth-and-goal that ended Vegas’ season.

Before and after the loss, Raiders players stumped for interim coach Rich Bisaccia to get the job. Davis fired general manager Mike Mayock and hired McDaniels and Ziegler instead. Bisaccia went to the Packers to serve as their special teams coach.

The first mistake McDaniels and Ziegler made was the most important one: They didn’t do a good job of self-scouting. Yes, the Raiders were a 10-7 team that made it to the playoffs. But a closer look would have revealed something different.

As I wrote before the McDaniels hire, the Raiders were one of the league’s luckiest teams in 2022. They had gone 10-7 but had been outscored by 65 points. They had gone 7-2 in games decided by seven or fewer points. Their four-game winning streak to end the season had included wins over backup quarterbacks Nick Mullens and Drew Lock and Colts quarterback Carson Wentz, who had chosen not to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and came back from the COVID-19 list hours before that game. Their young core was mostly missing after years of terrible draft picks and trades during the Gruden/Mayock era. The Raiders needed to rebuild.

McDaniels and Ziegler disagreed. Their first big choice signaled what they felt about the roster. With the Broncos trading for Russell Wilson and the Chargers making splash deals by trading for Khalil Mack and signing J.C. Jackson in free agency, the Raiders clearly felt like they needed to make their own move to keep up in the AFC West arms race. Let’s start our look at the big decisions from the ill-fated regime there …

 

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