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Team meeting led to changes in Josh McDaniels' demeanor at practice prior to firing as Raiders HC

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The Las Vegas Raiders would not face the Detroit Lions for another four days, a Monday night performance that would result in owner Mark Davis cleaning house by firing head coach Josh McDaniels and general manager David Ziegler on Halloween night. 

But it all changed during Thursday's practice.

The practice was hours after an intense but cathartic meeting -- a "kumbaya meeting," as players described it -- in which people asked and begged McDaniels to change his ways. In his way, he tried. But those who witnessed how he conducted himself during that Thursday practice felt the end was coming.

Sources described McDaniels as far less involved than usual during that practice -- akin to a bystander. He let the plays happen without correction, hoped players would self-correct and avoided stepping in to handle every mistake. It was unlike the way he had handled every previous practice during his tenure.

Players -- and coaches -- had ripped into him during the meeting. The point of the session was to be upfront and honest to try to fix what was wrong for the then-3-4 Raiders. Among the issues addressed: Overcorrecting, long meetings, the ways in which McDaniels attempted to hold players accountable and blaming players for issues with play-calling.

The meeting appeared to affect him in a negative way, sources say.

One source described McDaniels as a shell of himself.

Another source close to McDaniels described him during Thursday's practice as someone trying to listen to the players, not over-coaching, playing some music and letting it play out. McDaniels was trying to do what they asked during the meeting. But the contrast in his behavior was so stark that one person present said he felt McDaniels wasn't really there.

No one would blame McDaniels for taking to heart a blistering attack on his coaching from those he was asked to lead.

And while there were plays to be made during the 26-14 loss to the Lions -- in particular, Jimmy Garoppolo twice missed a wide-open Davante Adams for potential long gains or touchdowns in the second half -- the results that night stood for themselves, and it's fair to conclude a disjointed week of practices contributed to the performance.

The Raiders announced that McDaniels and Ziegler were fired late Tuesday night. Offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi was also fired, and Garoppolo was benched on Wednesday for rookie Aidan O’Connell. Assistant coach Bo Hardegree is the new play-caller and OC under interim head coach Antonio Pierce.

So much has changed in Las Vegas as Pierce and interim GM Champ Kelly lead the Raiders into today’s game against the Giants. By all accounts, Pierce has been a leader and has given voice to the players. The early returns are positive, with the hope that he can affect the Raiders' short-term as someone like Dan Campbell, another fiery leader, has affected the Detroit Lions' long-term.

Meanwhile, several sources in and out of the building weighed in on the various ways the McDaniels-Ziegler regime ended after fewer than two seasons:

  • The 2022 contract extension for Derek Carr, which included a no-trade clause, proved to be a mistake. Former president Dan Ventrelle agreed to the no-trade clause with Carr's camp prior to speaking with other Las Vegas officials. That gave Carr the power to nix a trade to the Saints and then leave for New Orleans as a free agent for no compensation headed back to the Raiders. Sources said Davis led the push to replace Carr, with McDaniels and Ziegler eventually coming on board.
  • The signing of Garoppolo this past March to a three-year, $72.5 million contract was another mistake. The biggest issue wasn't necessarily the financial commitment. Sources say McDaniels overestimated the familiarity Garoppolo would have with his scheme with McDaniels assuming it would be seamless for Garoppolo, who began his career in New England with McDaniels as OC. But Garoppolo, who did not practice this spring following offseason foot surgery, struggled to adapt to McDaniels' system.
  • The decision to start Brian Hoyer against the Bears on Oct. 22 when Garoppolo was out with a back injury was a particularly damning move by McDaniels, one that sources say several in the building disagreed with. Hoyer has been a veteran leader and a great sounding board for the younger players, but he struggled in a blowout loss. Most wanted O'Connell to start, believing he was the better option. With Chicago starting an undrafted free agent Tyson Bagent, McDaniels wanted the veteran Hoyer to run the offense and have a more secure, mistake-free game, but Hoyer threw two interceptions (one returned for a TD) that Sunday. Raiders players did not react well to the decision to play Hoyer.
  • As the losses mounted this season, Davis began meeting with players such as running back Josh Jacobs, Adams and other leaders, sometimes over dinner. Many of the issues that came up in the team meeting last week had been previously disclosed to Davis privately, which led him to start contemplating a potential change.
  • The Raiders were among the teams that attempted to trade up for the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. But based on the timing of the deal -- the Panthers traded for the pick on March 10, before the start of free agency -- they declined to be involved in trade talks at the end as they did not have a feel for the QBs available in the draft. The feeling was McDaniels didn't want to have a rookie QB to grow with going into Year 2 and chose the ready-made Garoppolo as his option. The Raiders would have selected Bryce Young, whom the Panthers took at No. 1, if they had traded up. Such a move would have occurred before free agency, negating a need to sign a veteran such as Garoppolo.
  • The decision to fire Ziegler was a rare instance of a GM getting fewer than two years. Ziegler came to Las Vegas following Mike Mayock's tenure as GM -- a stint that saw multiple failed first-round draft picks and ended with a personnel department in disarray. Ziegler did a lot to modernize the personnel side of the building and hired strong scouting minds in Kelly and senior personnel advisor Shaun Herock, director of college scouting Brandon Yeargan and senior national scouts Andy Dengler and Lenny McGill to go with Dwayne Joseph, who was retained as director of pro personnel. Ziegler also built a scout development program. Improvements were thought to be coming with forward-thinking concepts on player development. Davis, however, chose to move on.

It all contributed to a brutal two-year stretch in Las Vegas and a shocking midseason housecleaning.

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