Rich Bisaccia, the perpetual candidate
The weird history of Raiders interim HC Rich Bisaccia being the guy whose name always comes up in college head coaching searches -- but never seriously.
My fascination with Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia began in the fall of 2015. Steve Spurrier’s mid-season resignation had compelled Ray Tanner to set about finding a new head coach. Much to my confusion, a lifetime special teams coach I had never heard of was apparently a serious enough candidate to warrant a full-page profile in The State.
Bisaccia had gotten his start as a professional coach at the University of South Carolina after being promoted from graduate assistant to special teams coach under Sparky Woods. So it wasn’t the craziest thing in the world that he might have an interest in the job. Nor was it surprising that Tanner found Will Muschamp to be a better choice than Bisaccia. But then Bisaccia came up as a top candidate to replace Willie Taggart at USF in 2016 (as he had in 2010, when the Bulls hired Skip Holtz instead). And his name was floated for the Tennessee gig in 2017 (as it had been in Dec. 2009, when several outlets incorrectly reported Derek Dooley had hired him to coach special teams). And then it all came full circle for me in 2020, when Biscaccia and his weird band of loyalists once again unsuccessfully lobbied Ray Tanner for the USC job.
In none of these searches did Bisaccia ever appear to be a truly serious candidate. And I am absolutely certain that every fan base involved would have descended into Schiano to Tennessee-style revolt if Bisaccia had actually been hired. There is just absolutely no selling an SEC fan base on a 60-year-old special teams coach who hasn’t worked a college game since George W. Bush’s approval rating was above 80 percent.
Here’s a question for you: Does Bisaccia himself even really want to work in college?
The evidence is mixed, at best. Since leaving Ole Miss after the 2001 season, Bisaccia’s only return to the college ranks lasted less than a month. When Gus Malzahn returned to Auburn in 2013, he hired Bisaccia to run special teams and act as assistant head coach. But Bisaccia quit that job two weeks later, when the Dallas Cowboys offered him their special teams job.
On the surface, Bisaccia’s periodic emergence as a purported frontrunner for various college head coaching positions — a tradition that dates back to the 2008 Clemson vacancy — might seem like compelling evidence that he does want to coach in college. But there are some funny patterns with Bisaccia’s links to college jobs that make me doubt his sincerity.
For one, isn’t it kind of weird that he’s never actually gotten any of these positions? And that there have been periods of time when the college jobs he applies for get worse, even as his NFL résumé gets better? That the guy who is currently deemed a suitable custodian of an NFL franchise worth an estimated 3.42 billion dollars has never successfully applied to run, I dunno, Mississippi State? And that in 13 years of trying to get a college job, Bisaccia doesn’t really seem to be getting any further along in the application process? As much as I like to pile on Bisaccia, surely there is an AAC program out there for whom Bisaccia would be an upgrade and that could serve as a plausible launching pad for his collegiate ambitions, if such ambitions exist.
For the past several years, my hunch has been that these Bisaccia reports have more to do with Bisaccia’s agent keeping his client’s name in the papers than anything else. Even so, I was surprised to see how often reported links between Bisaccia and college jobs are followed by Bisaccia enjoying improved fortunes in his NFL career.
Bisaccia is linked to the Clemson head coaching vacancy by the Charleston Post & Courier.
New Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris retains Bisaccia as special teams coordinator after Jon Gruden’s firing and promotes him to associate head coach.
Jan. 2, 2011
In a miracle of passive voice construction — a staple among reporters on the Bisaccia beat — the Tallahassee Democrat reports that Bisaccia, whose contract with Tampa Bay ran out after the 2010 season, is “being mentioned as a possible staff member” for new Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp.
Jan. 12, 2011
San Diego Chargers announce Bisaccia as new special teams coach.
Jan. 16, 2012
The Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle reports that Bisaccia is the top choice for Derek Dooley’s special teams vacancy at Tennessee.
Jan. 25, 2012
Chargers announce Bisaccia’s promotion to assistant head coach.
Jan. 4, 2013
Gus Malzahn hires Bisaccia, who is out of contract with the Chargers.
Jan. 26, 2013
Auburn releases Bisaccia from his contract so he can accept an offer to coach special teams for the Dallas Cowboys.
Oct. 2015 to Dec. 2015
Much to my dismay, Bisaccia is repeatedly linked to South Carolina vacancy.
Jan. 5, 2016
Bisaccia, whose Cowboys contract expired at the end of the 2015 season, signs an extension.
Nov. 30, 2017
Vols beat reporter describes Bisaccia as “an emerging name” (I love it when names simply … emerge!) with support from Jason Witten and Jon Gruden.
Jan. 8, 2018
Raiders announce hiring of Rich Bisaccia as special teams coach.
Maybe these are all coincidences. Or maybe Bisaccia’s primary interest in the college game is its capacity to increase his bargaining position with NFL teams. The only people who know for sure are Rich Bisaccia and, maybe, former Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks. The 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year stumped for Bisaccia to get the USF job in 2014 and the South Carolina job in 2015.
Another Super Bowl Champion bearing the surname Brooks contacted Ray Tanner in 2020 to advocate on behalf of Bisaccia, according to emails obtained by The State. This Brooks, Robert, at least has a plausible connection to the program: his time at USC overlapped with Bisaccia’s. It was one of several search-related entreaties to which Tanner responded “either not at all or with a polite, generic promise that he'd add them to the list.”
Other former Bucs who advocated for Bisaccia in that full-page Josh Kendall article from 2015 included Brad Johnson and John Lynch. Even Bisaccia’s boss at the time, Jason Garrett, gave some on-the-record quotes burnishing the credentials of his special teams coach.
Bisaccia himself gave a statement, which is as interesting for what it does say as what it doesn’t.
“I've always had an ambition to be a head coach,” Bisaccia said, making the choice to qualify “head coach” with an indefinite article — and not to specify which job or even at which level. “And to even be considered at the University of South Carolina would be an honor, and we'll see where it goes from there.”
Earlier this month, Bisaccia finally achieved his dream of becoming a head coach.
Jon Gruden resigned from his job as head coach of the Raiders on Oct. 11 after the New York Times published misogynistic and homophobic emails sent by Gruden over the past decade. Gruden had long been one of Bisaccia’s most loyal boosters, plucking him out of the college ranks in 2002 and hiring him again in 2018, months after promoting his candidacy for the Vols job. Gruden’s final act of devotion was making way for Bisaccia to act as interim head coach in his stead.
Will this interim tag burnish Bisaccia’s credentials just enough to help him finally get the USF, UT, or USC jobs for which he is perpetually applying? Or was this the end game he had in mind all along?
Here’s hoping Shane Beamer sticks around long enough that we never have to find out.
For subscribers only: Some interesting Bisaccia details that didn’t make it into the main piece.
It is, by now, widely known that Bisaccia worked both sides of the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry in the 1990s. Something I did not know, however, is that Bisacchia is credited with having a role in the successful recruitment of Steve Taneyhill. When the Altoona, Pennsylvania native picked the Gamecocks over Alabama, Bisaccia — who was born in Yonkers, New York and was then a graduate assistant at USC — had been having “weekly chats” with Taneyhill, according to the Greenville News.
The first Bisaccia coaching rumor I could find had the Temple Owls offering him an unspecified staff position in Jan. 1993.
By the time Sparky Woods was fired later that year, Bisaccia had developed a reputation as an ace recruiter, credited — along with his work on Taneyhill — in luring Rob DeBoer to Columbia. It was expected that Brad Scott would kick the tires on retaining Bisaccia. As of mid-Dec. 1993, Bisaccia was quoted as saying he had not yet spoken with Scott. A week later, Tommy West hired him away to Clemson.
The first truly dubious Bisaccia rumor did not emerge until 1998, when The State reported that he turned down an offer to coach special teams for the Philadelphia Eagles.
During Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl title defense in 2003, the Bucs’ special teams were a disaster, and the local papers all but assumed Bisaccia would be turned into a sacrificial lamb. In 2004, the Bradenton Herald gave Bisaccia’s unit a C+ and described him as “beleaguered.” Later that fall, the Hartford Courant reported that Charlie Weis wanted to hire Bisaccia for the new staff he was assembling at Notre Dame.
Alternate titles for this piece that would have been bad for getting people to click on it but that made me laugh a little:
Too Rich For My Blood
Eat The Rich