Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia
The mystique of the Oakland Raiders has been around for decades, and for many that's a selling point in joining the Silver and Black. The addition of Head Coach Jon Gruden has certainly paid dividends during the free agency process as well, however, someone not receiving as much credit for their role in attracting players to the Bay Area is Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia.
Over the last couple weeks, the Raiders have made an effort of targeting players who can do multiple things, and use that versatility to help make the team better. A few of these players are former members of the Dallas Cowboys, such as fullback Keith Smith, linebacker Kyle Wilber, and most recently, wide receiver/return specialist Dwayne Harris. All three of the players listed served under Bisaccia in Dallas, and at one point or another, each has found success under the coach.
"Bisaccia is my guy, man," Harris said when asked about Bisaccia's influence as a coach. "We spent a lot of time in Dallas, and we built a bond that's unbelievable. As a coach from him, he's more like a brother to me, or a father figure. We just talk, man, it's not about football all the time."
From a fan perspective, it's easy to forget that these athletes are people just like everyone else, and their lives don't solely revolve around football. Having a coach like Bisaccia who's so relatable for many of these guys provides a unique dynamic to their relationship on and off the field.
While at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Ind., I asked Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett about Bisaccia's impact as a coach, and what the Raiders could look forward to getting from him.
"He's just a great football coach, and he's a great friend," Garrett said. "He's done such a good job wherever he's been, at the college level, or the NFL level. Not only impacting the players he coaches, but the coaches on the staff, and I know I'm indebted to him forever for the contributions he made to us.
"He's a great teacher, connects with the players, I think Keith saw that up close each and every day. It's not only a scheme standpoint, a technique standpoint when you're talking special teams, but also how you coach, and how you teach. His contributions have been enormous."
Bisaccia's contributions, as Garrett pointed out, have helped his special teams units succeed in years past. The last two seasons, Cowboys returners have ranked in the top 15 in average yards per kickoff return. This is an area the Raiders have struggled in for some time now, but it's Bisaccia's goal to get that matter remedied.
From an untrained eye, returning punts, or kickoffs, can look chaotic, but there's a formula to it; a formula that Harris believes has been easier to understand due to Bisaccia's wisdom.
Meet new Raiders WR/RS Dwayne Harris who after playing his first four seasons with the Cowboys from 2011-14, signed with the Giants in 2015 and spent the past three years in New York.
"Being a good returner you've just got to know the blocking scheme, and know how to set up your blocks," Harris said. "That's one thing when I was with Bisaccia that he taught me how to do, and he taught me how to do a lot of things. I had bad habits that he broke me out of, so we're going to get a lot of returns. I think this is the perfect system for me to get returns, and perfect system for me to be a good returner."
Running back Jalen Richard and former Raiders cornerback TJ Carrie split time the last two seasons fielding punts, and while Carrie is now a member of the Cleveland Browns, Harris will compete with Richard for the position. Gruden and General Manager Reggie McKenzie have preached competition, and with Harris in the fold there should be no shortage of it.
If you've been paying even a little attention to what the Raiders have been up to in free agency, then you've noticed that the team is overhauling the roster, and a new era is starting. The group formerly known as the "Kick Squad" has been disbanded, with kicker Sebastian Janikowski, long snapper Jon Condo, and punter Marquette King all going their separate ways.
Going forward, Bisaccia will have a new group, one that he's handpicked for the most part, featuring long snapper Andrew DePaola, punter Colby Wadman (the team will most likely bring in competition for the position), and kicker Giorgio Tavecchio, who might have to compete for his job during Training Camp as well. Regardless of who lines up as the return specialist, I'm anxious to see how Bisaccia maximizes their potential, along with special teams as a whole.