Unless Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is offered and accepts the Houston Texans open head coach position that is two dumpsters on fire crashing into each other and falling off a cliff, the 2021 offseason will mark the second straight that Bieniemy will go without a serious look at a head coaching gig. It’s shameful in several ways, especially from a league that allegedly wants to make a difference in hiring coaches of color. In the current offseason cycle, only Robert Saleh — a man of Lebanese descent — has broken the all-white barrier when it comes to advancement to head coach in the NFL.
There are those who know exactly what time it is in the NFL — it’s an ownership problem, which means that it isn’t changing anytime soon — and there are others who insist that Bieniemy simply isn’t qualified to be a head coach, and everybody should just be quiet and expect the status quo. The arguments against Bieniemy are highly suspect at best, they usually go like this, and all of them can be easily busted.
“Maybe he’s not a good interview.”
(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
There’s no evidence to establish that Bieniemy doesn’t know how to interview well when he gets in the room with owners and executives. The Chiefs could tell you about that from their twitter account. https://twitter.com/Chiefs/status/1319328810274332672 “Sometimes, professional sports have a tendency to think it’s all about the numbers and the egos,” he said in October, regarding the issue of balancing a winning offense with getting the ball to a bunch of stars. “Sometimes, I think people forget that we play a team game. This is what has made us special. Our guys are going to do whatever it needed to go out and win. Because when it’s all said and done, and we talk about this each and every week, it’s not about the numbers. It’s about the alphabet. And the only [letters in the alphabet] that matter in this industry are the ‘W’ and the ‘L.’ “Whatever we have to do to get that “W,” that’s all that matters. And then, you know what? We’re going to come back and put a game plan together for the following week, and we’re going to get it going, and get ready to go. Yes — ideally, we want all of our players to have all of the success that they can. But we do know this: If we can do this together, and do it for one another, and do it the right way, it’ll give us a chance to have a chance to pursue the goals we want to pursue.” Sounds like a head coach to me. Of course, if you want to talk about a guy who might not have interviewed well, let’s check in on new Lions head coach Dan Campbell, and his first press conference. https://twitter.com/PatMcAfeeShow/status/1352296873210613760 If you’re into complex explanations of how to run an offense and keep everything balanced, maybe Bieniemy is your guy. If you want caveman-level Coach-speak about how it’s important to “bite kneecaps…” well, maybe Campbell is your guy. To be fair, Campbell said some very smart stuff in his introductory presser about maximizing players in scheme, which makes him an immediate and massive upgrade over Matt Patricia (more on him in a minute), but here we are, nonetheless.
“He doesn’t call the plays in Kansas City. Andy Reid does that.”
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
First of all, if we’re going that route, we must also conclude that the Bears should have never hired Matt Nagy and the Eagles should have never hired Doug Pederson, because Nagy and Pederson were Bieniemy’s predecessors, and it’s not as if Andy Reid took on a whole bunch of responsibility on because Bieniemy wasn’t up to the task. Don’t believe me? Here’s Reid on Bieniemy just last week. “Everybody knows what I think of Eric and what kind of head coach I think he’d be. Maybe the best I think I can tell you is I hope he goes to the NFC when he has that opportunity. Whoever gets him, I think is a very lucky organization, one of the few people that I’ve come across with the leadership skills that he has, the ability to lead men in this crazy game that we’re in and for those guys through his leadership to play at a Pro Bowl level. When he gets his hands on you, figuratively, he does wonders with athletes, and he’s able to maximize their abilities on the field and he gives them that extra boost to be a productive person off the field and somebody I would have loved for my son to have played for.” As far as “not calling plays,” first of all, it’s a collaborative effort. Second of all, Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni just got the Eagles head coaching gig despite the fact that he didn’t call plays for Frank Reich in Indianapolis. Here’s how that’s being spun at this point in time. https://twitter.com/JClarkNBCS/status/1352390894192881669 Apparently, it’s a problem for some, and not a problem for others. I wonder why that is? (Note: This is not a specific shot at John Clark).
“But does he have the respect of his players?”
(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
Gosh, I dunno. Let’s rewind to Patrick Mahomes last October. “When you get a guy like EB, who puts in the time, who is a great leader of players and men and somebody that can really control and have a presence in any room he walks in, you understand why these other teams are looking at him to be their head coach. And so we obviously are focused on our goal right now, but we know, with who he is and how he operates, that he’ll have the opportunities to go places and continue to have success.” How about Alex Smith, Mahomes’ predecessor in Kansas City? https://twitter.com/NickiJhabvala/status/1352322355444523008 How about Travis Kelce? When Kelce fumbled near the end of the first half against the Bills in Week 6 and the Bills took over, Kelce was furious with himself. Who took Kelce aside right after the play and told him to not let the mistake overwhelm him?
(NFL Game Pass)
(NFL Game Pass)
“His history at Colorado makes him unhireable.”
Feb 2, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) shakes hands with offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy after a first quarter touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Per Sportsnaut: In 1991, Bieniemy’s license was suspended for a year following repeated infractions. He later received an on-campus ban from the University of Colorado for harassing and assaulting a parking lot attendant. In addition, he was arrested for DUI in 2001. Bieniemy also worked on Colorado’s coaching staff when the program had multiple players facing rape allegations. NFL teams should be concerned about all of this. I’m not discounting that for a second. Head coaches are generally CEOs more than they’re play-callers, and any team considering Bieniemy should be aware of his past, all the particulars, and how he explains it now. He’s going to be a leader of men. His past, therefore, is of utmost importance. But here’s the thing. If a team actually wants to hire a head coach, the vetting process is generally pretty thin. Consider the Lions’ hire of the aforementioned Matt Patricia despite sexual assault charges from 1996 that were ultimately dismissed in 1997 despite witnesses that included a nurse, a doctor, a police detective, a police officer and a college friend of the alleged victim, per the Detroit Free Press. After Patricia was hired in 2018 and the story became public, the team released this statement:
“The Detroit Lions are aware that a criminal charge involving sexual assault was brought against Matt Patricia in 1996. Matt was 21 at the time and on spring break in Texas. The charge was dismissed by the prosecutor at the request of the complaining individual prior to trial. As a result, Coach Patricia never had the opportunity to present his case or clear his name publicly in a court of law. He has denied that there was any factual basis for the charge. There was no settlement agreement with the complaining individual, no money exchanged hands and there was no confidentiality agreement. In discussions today with Lions management, the reporter involved acknowledged that the allegations have not been substantiated.
“As an organization, The Detroit Lions take allegations regarding sexual assault or harassment seriously. Coach Patricia was the subject of a standard pre-employment background check which did not disclose this issue. We have spoken to Coach Patricia about this at length as well as the attorney who represented him at the time. Based upon everything we have learned, we believe and have accepted Coach Patricia’s explanation and we will continue to support him. We will continue to work with our players and the NFL to further awareness of and protections for those individuals who are the victims of sexual assault or violence.”
As for Urban Meyer, who the Jaguars just hired as their head coach.. well, we probably don’t even want to go there. If we do, there’s a long list of players who have found the wrong side of the law under Meyer’s watch. And if we want to go deeper, there’s Meyer’s inexplicable support of Zach Smith at Ohio State. This is not to say that Bieniemy shouldn’t be held to an impeccable standard if he wants a head coaching position in the NFL. He should be, as Patricia and Meyer should have been. But it is to say that more often than we’d like to believe, such things don’t happen. It doesn’t make him “unhireable.” If Bieniemy hasn’t learned from his priors, he shouldn’t be a head coach anywhere. But there’s every indication that he’s a different person now. If we wanted to, we could assume that the “bad interview” stuff comes from Bieniemy being asked about his past. But we don’t know that, either. The truth is, given the NFL’s recent hiring trends, the primary reason for the fact that Eric Bieniemy doesn’t have a head coaching position in 2021 is most likely the most obvious answer. And that’s also the most shameful answer. For Bieniemy, and for every other coach of color who hopes for an opportunity they’ve clearly earned.