The transition couldn’t be more difficult for Rich Bisaccia, the former Dallas Cowboys assistant head coach and special teams coordinator named interim head coach for the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday. Coaches often wait decades for an opportunity to take the helm of a team and put their unique stamp on the way a team develops.
The transition from one coach to another is always a challenge for a team, but the process is even more difficult when the change happens mid-season. And when a mid-season change isn’t difficult enough, nothing makes for a greater challenge than taking over a team amid a controversy.
Bisaccia will take over a Raiders team that started the season on a hot streak going 3-0 but has gone 0-2 in the last two weeks, including an embarrassing performance on Sunday that may have been the result of emerging news reports about racist, sexist, and homophobic comments made by former head coach Jon Gruden over the past decade in private emails.
Bisaccia joined the Raiders organization in 2018 after a successful five-year run as special teams coordinator and assistant head coach in Dallas under Jason Garrett. During his time in Dallas, the special teams unit consistently ranked near the top of the NFL.
In his first year with Dallas, Bisaccia turned around the NFL’s 29th-ranked special teams unit from the previous 2012 season, resulting in a fourth-place finish kicking return yards for the 2013-14 season.
As football fans know, special teams is often the unit that makes the difference between a win or a loss. With Bisaccia, the Cowboys won two NFC East championships and tied the franchise record for wins/losses with a 13-3 season in 2016.
The Cowboys have been no stranger to controversy in the age of social ‘wokeness.’ Cowboys owner and CEO Jerry Jones found himself on the hot seat with fans and social justice crusaders due to his hard-line stance about player conduct during the 2017 season. The previous season, former San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick ignited a firestorm when kneeling or sitting during the National Anthem.
Reporting by the San Antonio Express-News in 2017 claimed that Jones said players who “disrespect the flag” would not play. Many fans, particularly those of African-American heritage, took offense to the wealthy owner denying players the opportunity to protest. To date, only one Cowboys player has knelt during the national anthem.
Taking over a struggling team amid controversy is never the dream of any coach. Still, for Bisaccia, those are the cards he was dealt in Las Vegas, and only time will tell if he can get the silver and black back to being competitive and free from outside distraction.