Like a star player rising to national prominence, Arizona State football’s future just left for the NFL.
The Las Vegas Raiders are hiring former ASU defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce as their new linebackers coach, per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. Pierce resigned earlier this month along with former offensive coordinator Zak Hill and multiple assistants.
While the spotlight does not shine as brightly on the recruiting whiz amidst alleged violations, the general sentiment around Tempe is disappointment for what could have been. Pierce is hailed for his ability to recruit, particularly with his success in 2020. The class, which dominated at the four-star level in Southern California, ranked fourth in the conference and 24th nationally, according to 247sports.com.
As of today, three of those four-star recruits have transferred.
The former UArizona star came to ASU as linebackers coach after serving three years as head coach at Long Beach Polytechnic High School. After two years in that role, Herm Edwards called on Pierce to work with former NFL head coach Marvin Lewis as co-defensive coordinators in 2019. Lewis and Pierce, alongside Edwards, created a recruiting angle that no other school in the country offered, oodles or NFL experience. In 2021, Pierce took on sole responsibility of the defense.
Edwards was allegedly grooming Pierce for the head coaching position upon Edwards’ retirement, but that plan took a turn when the NCAA announced it was investigating the football team for alleged recruiting violations during the COVID-19 recruiting dead-period. Initially, the athletic department placed tight ends coach Adam Breneman, receivers coach Prentice Gill, and defensive backs coach Chris Hawkins on administrative leave.
In late January, Gill and Hawins were fired. Hill and Breneman resigned next, and Pierce followed suit shortly thereafter.
Fans speculated all season long that Pierce’s departure from the program was inevitable, noticing his lack of a recruiting presence on social media, while noting his role as recruiting coordinator. While remaining optimistic on the surface, it is safe to assume Pierce might have known this was his last year in Tempe.
Since the alleged recruiting violations became news, Pierce has been rumored for a return to the NFL. Most notably, the vacant linebackers coaching job for the Kansas City Chiefs was linked to Pierce after it was reported he turned down the same role a few years ago.
Pierce joins first-time head coach Josh McDaniels in Las Vegas alongside defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. He will work with linebackers such as Denzel Perryman, Cory Littleton, and more on a defense that ranked 26th in the NFL in total defense last year.
Analyst and interim defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson was elevated to defensive coordinator to replace Pierce.