HENDERSON, Nev. — Tom Telesco and Antonio Pierce don’t really know each other. Their first encounter came when Telesco came to Las Vegas for his second interview with the Raiders brass for their general manager job Monday.
Having already been hired as head coach, Pierce being present for Telesco’s audition gave them the opportunity to break the ice. To kick things off, Pierce made sure to bring up the historic Week 15 beatdown the Raiders put on the Los Angeles Chargers, Telesco’s former team — one that ultimately led them to fire Telesco, their GM, the next day.
“Right away,” Pierce said. “When he came in the other day, I could see that he was genuine. He was poised. He was calm. He had a plan. … He knows I was poking at him trying to get him going … but he stayed very poker-faced, which I was like, ‘OK, cool, this is good.’”
Pierce and Telesco squashed their friendly beef and meshed well enough for the Raiders to move forward with hiring Telesco on Tuesday. The two were introduced together at team headquarters Wednesday on what owner Mark Davis called “a great day to be a Raider.”
The marriage between Telesco and Pierce is very much an arranged one. The existence of a prior relationship between a GM and head coach doesn’t guarantee success — former Raiders GM Dave Ziegler and former head coach Josh McDaniels had been friends since college, after all, and struggled mightily before being fired eight games into their second season together — but the lack of one does naturally raise questions about how they’ll work together.
Although he was hired after Pierce, Telesco will have the final say over roster decisions. He made sure to point out, however, that he plans to manage football personnel in conjunction with Pierce.
“It’s a partnership,” Telesco said. “As far as building the roster, you’re working through the vision of the head coach. How does he want to play on offense? How does he want to play on defense? How does he want to play on special teams? And you build it that way. … We’re going to be able to bounce ideas off each other.”
Just the beginning. pic.twitter.com/zNSJXIJeUy
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) January 25, 2024
That aligns with how Telesco operated with former Chargers head coach Brandon Staley during their three-year run together in Los Angeles. Particularly on the defensive side of the ball — Staley was the defensive play caller — Telesco often deferred to his head coach’s preferences. It didn’t yield positive results, but it suggests Telesco was genuine in his desire to collaborate with Pierce.
“Understand that we’ve got a plan,” Pierce said, “and that plan is to do it together and be hand in hand with it. Obviously, if he goes down, I go down. That’s just how it is. … But that’s not our plan. Our plan is to win, put a team in place that is competitive each and every week and give ourselves an opportunity to win.”
In terms of his roster-building philosophy, Telesco wants to build through the draft — just like every other GM in the league. He had his fair share of draft misses in his 11 seasons as Chargers GM (2013-23), but he also made strong draft picks in quarterback Justin Herbert, receiver Keenan Allen, offensive tackle Rashawn Slater, defensive end Joey Bosa and safety Derwin James Jr. He also signed productive undrafted free agents like running back Austin Ekeler and receiver Tyrell Williams.
Telesco has also displayed a willingness to be aggressive in accelerating the roster-building process through trades and free agency. Among his best moves in that space included trading for defensive end Khalil Mack and signing offensive tackle Russell Okung, cornerback Casey Hayward and centers Mike Pouncey and Corey Linsley.
“There’s no one specific way to build a team,” Telesco said. “You have to use every possible avenue you can under the constraints of the salary cap. … But I think in this day and age in this league, you’d better be flexible with how you build your team.”
Telesco’s 29 years of NFL experience, 11 years as a GM and familiarity with the AFC West were instrumental in the Raiders bringing him onboard. The results of Telesco’s tenure as Chargers GM, however, were mixed. The team went 84-95 in the regular season, made the playoffs just three times and posted a 2-3 record in the postseason.
Obviously, the Raiders are hoping for more. Telesco was measured in his comments when asked about the team’s roster and trajectory, but Pierce put it in no uncertain terms that they’re aiming high.
“Our vision is clear,” Pierce said. “Win the division, get into the playoffs and hoist that Lombardi Trophy.”
Our vision is clear. Our philosophy simple. pic.twitter.com/oaTkbAHlpK
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) January 25, 2024
As the Raiders start that quest, there’s plenty for Telesco to address this offseason. As he starts to shape the roster, he’ll be armed with a lot of resources, including the No. 13 pick in the draft, a solid cache of later-round picks and over $36 million in cap space (according to Over the Cap). But there’s also a long list of areas that need to be addressed. The Raiders must figure out the plan at quarterback, decide on the future of running back Josh Jacobs and address other positional needs like offensive line, defensive tackle and cornerback.
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Additionally, Telesco has decisions to make about the structure of the franchise’s personnel department. There were several members of the existing staff present at Wednesday’s news conference, but Telesco will almost certainly want to make some changes as he finalizes his team.
Along the way, it’ll be interesting to see how Telesco handles things with assistant general manager Champ Kelly. Kelly served as the Raiders’ interim GM for nine games last season, interviewed for the GM job three times and was viewed as the favorite to get the job as recently as last week, but he ultimately fell short to Telesco. Kelly is still under contract with the Raiders and could return as assistant GM in 2024, but that’ll come down to whether Telesco wants him back and if Kelly wants to be back. For what it’s worth, Kelly and other personnel staffers plan to travel to Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl next week to ramp up draft preparations, according to multiple team sources.
After Wednesday’s news conference ended, Telesco, Pierce and Davis quickly exited the meeting room without partaking in the customary practice of meeting with reporters to answer follow-up questions. It was time to get busy.
“I don’t think they’re going to be talking to you too much after this,” Davis told the assembled media. “They’ve got some work to do.”
(Photo: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)