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Las Vegas Raiders: Who is the best fit for the offensive coordinator position?

Las Vegas Raiders
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The Las Vegas Raiders removed the interim label from Antonio Pierce’s job title and made him their full-time head coach a couple of weeks ago. Since then, the team has conducted an extensive interview process for an offensive coordinator after it dismissed assistants from the previous staff. 

Without a doubt, Pierce’s most important hire is the offensive coordinator, who will have the most influence on the Raiders’ ability to put points, preferably touchdowns over field goals, on the scoreboard.

Pierce and his staff must make a measured decision, and they have interviewed a variety of candidates over the past week.

Whomever the Raiders hire for the job will also have a major impact on how the team goes about addressing the quarterback position through the trade market, free agency, the draft and even the in-house development of Aidan O’Connell.

Before the team makes a much-anticipated announcement on an offensive coordinator, let’s get to know five viable candidates based on their resumes, coaching strengths, and fit with Pierce’s potential direction for the offense.

Related: Las Vegas Raiders are expected to make a major coaching decision in the coming days

Top candidate: Klint Kubiak, San Francisco 49ers passing game coordinator

Former Kyle Shanahan assistants have gone elsewhere and immediately spiced up offensive attacks with high-level game-planning.

Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel, a former run game coordinator and offensive coordinator in San Francisco, fielded the No. 2 scoring offense and the league-leading unit in total yards per game for the 2023 season.

Houston Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik has expedited C.J. Stroud’s development in a passing attack that ranked seventh across the league.

Klint Kubiak could be the next Shanahan assistant to bring a spark to an offense next season, though he still has coaching duties with the NFC champions in Super Bowl 58.

According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Raiders have an interest in Kubiak, but they will make a decision on the offensive coordinator role this week, which means the 49ers assistant’s timeline may not match with how Las Vegas would like to proceed in filling the vacancy.

If the Raiders exercise some patience and hire Kubiak, he would bring one full year of primary play-calling experience with him from his time with the Minnesota Vikings in 2021. In that year, Minnesota ranked 11th in passing yards per game. Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins threw for 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, and running back Dalvin Cook had a Pro Bowl campaign, rushing for 1,159 yards and six touchdowns.

As the Denver Broncos quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator under Nathaniel Hackett, Kubiak also worked with Russell Wilson in 2022.

Ironically, Kubiak has experience with Cousins and Wilson, two quarterbacks who could be on the Raiders’ list of possible acquisitions this offseason. 

Related: Game changer: Is Kliff Kingsbury’s bold ‘Air Raid’ vision the way to transform Las Vegas Raiders’ offense?

Intriguing candidate: Kliff Kingsbury, USC quarterbacks coach

kliff kingsbury
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Last Friday, the Raiders interviewed Kliff Kingsbury, per the MMQB’s Albert Breer.

Kingsbury has only coached four years on the pro level, all with the Arizona Cardinals, but his connection to notable quarterbacks spans back to 2011 with the Houston Cougars. In that year, he served as the Cougars’ quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator for an offense that led the NCAA in scoring and total yards with Case Keenum throwing for 48 touchdowns and five interceptions.

In 2012, as the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M, Kingsbury worked with quarterback Johnny Manziel, who won the Heisman Trophy that year. The Aggies tied Baylor for fourth in scoring and ranked third in total yards that season.

As Texas Tech’s head coach between 2013 and 2018, Kingsbury worked with former first-rounders Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes. 

Most people remember Kingsbury’s short stint in Arizona with Kyler Murray, but based on his track record, he’s been around high-level quarterback talent or helped mold elite offenses for over a decade. Even in his current position at USC, he’s had a close look at Caleb Williams, who’s the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft.

Kingsbury should be able to identify and develop quarterback talent as a pro offensive coordinator, which is a major selling point for the Raiders job. Pierce and his staff must find the team’s franchise signal-caller, or else Las Vegas will struggle in a conference with Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and C.J. Stroud’s immediate rise in Houston.

Kingsbury is known for running the principles of the Air Raid offense, though his Cardinals squads performed well in the red zone with physical running backs. On his watch, Arizona ranked within the top 11 in red-zone scoring with Kenyan Drake and James Conner scoring 10-plus touchdowns in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

Underrated candidate: Alex Van Pelt, Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator

alex van pelt
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As the MMQB’s Albert Breer noted, the Raiders interviewed Alex Van Pelt a day before they sat down with Kliff Kingsbury.

Van Pelt isn’t a flashy name, but he makes sense when you consider the attitude of the team under Antonio Pierce.

When Pierce took over for Josh McDaniels, the Raiders imposed their will on opponents through the ground attack. 

Under McDaniels this past season, Las Vegas failed to rush for 100 yards in a game through the first eight weeks. The team eclipsed that number in six out of nine contests with Pierce as its interim head coach.

In Cleveland, Van Pelt isn’t the primary play-caller, but he served as an offensive coordinator for a unit that ranked within the top six in rushing for each term between 2020 and 2022. The Browns lost star running back Nick Chubb in Week 3 and still finished 12th in rushing yards per game for the 2023 campaign.

As an assistant to head coach Kevin Stefanski, Van Pelt has learned how to devise a game plan to feature the ground attack. He’s also likely helped tight end David Njoku develop into one of the league’s top pass-catching tight ends, which may appeal to the Raiders who moved up to select tight end Michael Mayer in the second round of last year’s draft.

Coming from Cleveland, Van Pelt can reinforce Pierce’s physical philosophy for the offense and provide some insight on how to get a young tight end more involved in the passing game.

By the way, Van Pelt called plays for the Browns in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs following the 2020 season, and Cleveland beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 48-37 with Baker Mayfield under center. Stefanski didn’t coach that game because he contracted COVID. 

Update: On Thursday, the New England Patriots hired Alex Van Pelt to be their offensive coordinator, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.

Wild-card candidate: Chip Kelly, UCLA head coach

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ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio caused a stir when he injected Chip Kelly’s name into the candidate pool for the Raiders’ offensive coordinator opening.

“There’s one team he might specifically be targeting — the Raiders,” Florio wrote. “That’s the word percolating out of Mobile, Alabama, where plenty of NFL folks are gathered for Senior Bowl practices.”

The Raiders haven’t formally requested an interview with Kelly, and Florio couldn’t confirm that he’s even on the Raiders’ radar.

Aside from the whispers that Florio heard from voices in Mobile, Alabama at the Senior Bowl, Kelly’s emphasis on running the ball effectively feeds into the idea that he could be a match for Pierce and the direction of the Raiders offense.

In each of the previous four seasons, Kelly’s UCLA Bruins have ranked 12th, 11th, sixth, and 17th across the country in rushing yards per game. 

Yes, former UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson accounted for 1,560 of those rushing yards between 2020 and 2022, but running back Zach Charbonnet excelled under Kelly and became a second-round pick in the 2023 draft. This past year, Carson Steele and TJ Harden ran for 827-plus yards apiece, scoring 14 rushing touchdowns combined.

If Pierce wants an offensive coordinator who can use the run to complement or take pressure off a young quarterback, Kelly fits the bill. 

Furthermore, as a former head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles with two 10-win seasons on his resume, Kelly could help uncover some blind spots for Pierce, who’s a relatively inexperienced lead skipper.

Related: 2024 NFL mock draft: Packers and Steelers trade up, Raiders, Patriots land QBs

Longshot candidate: Thad Lewis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterbacks coach

NFL: Preseason-Chicago Bears at Cleveland Browns
Credit: Eric P. Mull-USA TODAY Sports

Though the Raiders may not want to pair an inexperienced head coach with a first-time play-caller and offensive coordinator, they interviewed Thad Lewis, who’s ironically been part of Chip Kelly’s UCLA coaching staff between 2018 and 2019. Since 2021, he’s served as an assistant wide receivers coach and quarterbacks coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Lewis has drawn interest from other teams that need an offensive coordinator. Otherwise, the Buccaneers may promote him to replace Dave Canales who became the Carolina Panthers’ new head coach a week ago.

Lewis may want to climb the coaching ranks with his current team and continue to help Baker Mayfield experience a career rebirth in Tampa Bay, which is another reason why he may be a longshot option for Las Vegas’ offensive coordinator position. 

With that said, the Buccaneers have also interviewed Kentucky quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Liam Coen, who’s from Sean McVay’s coaching tree. 

If Tampa Bay passes on promoting Lewis, perhaps he may be interested in reuniting with Chip Kelly in Las Vegas, which would be a surprising pair for the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach positions.

Who knows though? 

The Raiders shocked some people when they hired former Los Angeles Chargers general manager Tom Telesco for the same position over Ed Dodds and Champ Kelly. We may be surprised with their pick for an offensive coordinator in the coming days.

Maurice Moton covers the Las Vegas Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.

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