One of the subplot surprises of Super Bowl week arrived Wednesday, when Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid revealed that Eric Bieniemy met with the team’s offensive players and even helped with some play installation ahead of their AFC championship game against the Ravens.
This is interesting because, as of right now, Bieniemy does not have a job in the NFL. Bieniemy spent last season as offensive coordinator and assistant head coach on Ron Rivera’s staff in Washington, but lost his job amid the Commanders’ latest regime change. Washington, which of course was very normal about their entire coaching search, thank you, did interview Bieniemy for its top vacancy, but seemingly knew his days there were numbered in time to grant him permission to visit the Chiefs two weeks ago. Dan Quinn wound up getting the head coaching job in D.C. and hired Kliff Kingsbury as his offensive coordinator; Quinn clarified in his introductory press conference that Bieniemy was indeed out. He was fired with a year left on his contract, according to The Washington Post.
That puts Bieniemy in a curious spot: He’s coveted for his insights by the best team in the league, but unwanted by the rest. So, what gives?
Based on the performance of the 4-13 Commanders, Bieniemy’s stock may not have been at an all-time high going into this hiring cycle. He did not make the decision to play struggling quarterback Sam Howell for most of the season (that was Rivera), but he should bear some responsibility for the strange decision to have Howell lead the league in pass attempts behind a porous offensive line, despite having a decent running game.
But Bieniemy’s résumé isn’t the problem. Neither are his schemes. The issue is that, with most of the league, Bieniemy is seemingly losing a popularity contest.
His tenure in Washington was marked by rocky relationships. As early as training camp, Rivera himself said from a podium that players had come to him “a little concerned” with Bieniemy’s high intensity in practices, a complaint that lingered throughout the season. This week, according to a Washington Post story, players who had worked with Bieniemy described “a hard-working coach who hamstrung his own efforts with poor communication, stubborn play-calling and a disregard for player feedback.”
That’s similar to what Commanders tight end Logan Thomas said on the record to reporters after the team’s season-ending loss to the Cowboys last month.
“I might be the only one to say it, but I think we had our ups and downs [with Bieniemy],” Thomas said. “We had some good, we had some bad. It’s one of those things where something new comes in after you’ve been used to something else for a couple years, and sometimes you can bang heads. But I respect him for coming to work every day and being the same person every day.”
There has been reporting in the past that Bieniemy does not interview well, though at least one team he’s met with has denied that this has been the case. That said, since 2019, Bienemy has interviewed for a head coaching job 17 times with 16 teams. That is half the league. Every offseason from 2019 to 2022, he interviewed with at least two, and six of the seven franchises with openings in 2021 brought him in. None of those have led to a head coaching opportunity. For whatever reason, when Bieniemy has gotten in the room with NFL owners, things don’t go well for him.
It’s a loaded dynamic, given that Bieniemy has become the embodiment of the NFL’s failures in minority hiring, particularly in top positions. There’s also something strange about it, since the Chiefs, the organization that knows him the best, love having Eric Bieniemy in a room. Patrick Mahomes said on Wednesday that having Bieniemy back in meetings led to a palpable change in energy among Kansas City’s offensive players.
“It’s always great to have EB,” Mahomes said. “The energy he brings, the mentality he brings, you can feel ... Just having him back in the building was really cool. I think guys had a bit of [goosebumps] like, ‘Hey, EB’s back.’”
Reid, who has privately gone to bat for Bieniemy in league circles in the past, echoed that support.
“I’m obviously a big fan of his, and I know the things he can do,” Reid said Wednesday.
It’s possible that Bieniemy could wind up back in Kansas City in a formal role next season, though the Chiefs offensive coordinator position belongs to Matt Nagy, whose job seems unlikely to change. Reid said Wednesday that he didn’t have a spot for Bieniemy “right now,” he may have done so in keeping with his stance that someone else needs to offer this guy a job.
Bieniemy could do far worse than a role on Reid’s staff, coaching the NFL’s best player, but going back to Kansas City would be a frustrating referendum on why Bieniemy went to Washington in the first place. Last year, Bieniemy made what was essentially a lateral move (to a far worse franchise). One attractive quality of the Washington job was that it came with play-calling duties, which Reid holds in Kansas City. It seemed like Bieniemy was making the leap in the hopes of checking the one box left on his coaching candidate to-do list. That he was expected to do it already felt like a double standard, and despite Washington’s struggles, it’s hard not to feel like a rug was pulled out from underneath him. This wasn’t a direct path to a head coaching job, and now there’s no path to a play-calling job in 2024 either. Not only did he have just the one, seemingly perfunctory head coaching interview in Washington, he wasn’t getting calls to fill the multiple NFL offensive coordinator vacancies this cycle either. Only Seattle’s OC job remains open; Bieniemy didn’t even get interviewed for jobs that went to guys like Luke Getsy, Ken Dorsey, Alex Van Pelt, Nick Holz, and Zac Robinson. Though three of the eight head coaches hired this cycle are Black (a fourth new coach, Dave Canales, is Mexican, meaning half the head jobs went to minority coaches this cycle), none of the new offensive coordinators are, a troubling trend for the NFL considering the effort the league has put into programs to improve diversity in the ranks of offensive assistant coaches.
“Offensive assistants are young. They need the ability to have exposure to the experiences to grow, to be able to get the kind of experience to become offensive coordinators and then head coaches,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said earlier this week. “I think it’s too early to say it’s not working. I don’t accept that at this stage.”
So what are Bieniemy’s options now? Perhaps Bieniemy, who served as Colorado’s offensive coordinator in 2011 and 2012 before joining the Chiefs’ staff, could go back to the college game. The pass-heavy offense he ran in Washington might be a fit with many teams running spread-centric schemes.
A simple change of environment might be in order, too. A year later, after one of the more significant steps of his career designed to finally get that elusive head coaching job, Bieniemy is back where he was last offseason: beloved by the best team but an afterthought for the rest.