Eric Bieniemy has become the cause celebre when it comes to minority assistants who have been denied the opportunity to become NFL head coaches.
Three years as the coordinator of one of the league’s most prolific offenses in Kansas City has led to several interviews for Bieniemy — but no promotions.
As Bieniemy prepares for his second straight Super Bowl appearance with the Chiefs, many outsiders point to the failure of teams to hire him as emblematic of a major problem for a league that preaches diversity but has only three Black head coaches among the 32 franchises.
“I did not ask be the poster boy of this particular situation that I have experienced,” Bieniemy said Tuesday. “At the end of the day, the only thing that you want to do is be recognized with all the things that you’ve accomplished, and for whatever reason that has not happened. That’s OK, because the only thing I know what to do is to just go back to work and continue chopping wood.”
Bieniemy has accomplished plenty since taking over as coordinator in Kansas City for Patrick Mahomes’ first season as the starter in 2018. His two predecessors in the job turned it into promotions, Doug Pederson getting hired by Philadelphia in 2016 and Matt Nagy getting the head coach’s job in Chicago two years later.
Bieniemy is still waiting for an offer despite coordinating an offense that leads the NFL in scoring (31 points per game), yards (406.9 per game) and yards per play (6.45) over his three years.
“I don’t understand everything, I am not an owner, I don’t sit in those meetings to interview head coaches,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said. “Whoever gets him whenever they get him, they will be very lucky.”
While some give the full credit for Kansas City’s success to Mahomes and Reid, the quarterback and head coach are vocal about how big a role Bieniemy has played in the team’s success.
Mahomes had started only one game before Bieniemy took over the offense and has said he barely knew how to read defenses at the time. He has leaned on Bieniemy, especially when it comes to figuring out protections that allow Mahomes to make so many big plays.
“He gives me every single tool that is needed so I know exactly what to do, even if I get an unscouted look or unscouted blitz,” Mahomes said. “He helps me be comfortable in the pocket. That comes straight from him and his film study of the opponent’s defense.”
Bieniemy interviewed for six of the seven openings this offseason, getting the opportunity with the Jets, Atlanta, the Chargers, Detroit, Philadelphia and Houston, while Jacksonville appeared laser-focused on Urban Meyer.
Two of those jobs did go to minorities, with the Texans hiring David Culley, who is Black, and the Jets picking Robert Saleh, who is of Arab descent. Bieniemy didn’t get any of them.
“It’s always about getting the right job,” he said. “You got to understand, sometimes the job and the person have to connect. There has to be a connection. The only thing I can do is be my most authentic self. That’s who I am. I can only be me. Some team has to want me. On top of that, it has to be some type of collaboration and making sure that the chemistry is a fit. So for whatever reason, that chemistry has not been a fit. It has not been an opportunity to connect. But that’s OK.”
Bieniemy said his focus this week is figuring out how to handle Tampa Bay’s pressure packages and putting his players in the best position possible to repeat as champions.
Once he recovers from the game, he said he’ll take time to reach out for feedback on why the teams he interviewed with didn’t hire him and work on becoming an even better coach so that he’s more prepared when that opportunity comes.
There just isn’t time for that this week.
“I can’t sit here and dwell in pity,” he said. “Because when it’s all said and done, I have a responsibility to the Kansas City Chiefs. I have a responsibility to coach Reid. I have a responsibility to this entire offensive coaching staff and our players to make sure that we’re mentally and physically ready to go come game day. That’s who I am and that’s how I operate.”
Bieniemy isn’t alone when it comes to minority coordinators in the Super Bowl who didn’t get a head coaching offer this offseason. Tampa Bay’s three coordinators are all Black: Byron Leftwich (offense), Todd Bowles (defense) and Keith Armstrong (special teams).
“Why do we have to keep talking about the color of these particular coordinators when in reality these aren’t anything but good old-fashioned ball coaches who have done a great job being leaders of men who obviously know exactly what they’re doing but have been provided an opportunity to do so by the head coach they work for and their organizations,” Bieniemy said. “It just goes to show you that great coaches in this league and plenty more need to be given those same opportunities and given those same windows to go through.”