Chiefs’ Eric Bieniemy will just have to wait
Kansas City’s offensive coordinator ends season without Super Bowl or head coach gig
KANSAS CITY — With the Super Bowl matchup set and only one NFL head-coaching opening remaining, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy must now look toward next season.
The New England Patriots ended Bieniemy’s work by defeating the Chiefs, 37-31, in overtime Sunday night in the AFC Championship Game. And although Bieniemy is on the Miami Dolphins’ short list to fill their coaching vacancy, the job reportedly will be offered to Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores, the team’s de facto defensive coordinator.
Obviously, Bieniemy had hoped to reach the Super Bowl. He’s eager to move up in his career. The setbacks, however, won’t deter Bieniemy.
“I felt blessed and fortunate to be in this situation and have that opportunity to interview,” he said. “Would you love to be hired? Yes.”
Despite Bieniemy having been shut out in this hiring cycle, John Wooten believes the former running backs coach will run his own shop someday. In fact, Wooten is counting on it.
Wooten, who leads the group that oversees compliance of the Rooney Rule, figured that Bieniemy was in a great position to rise to the top rung of the coaching ladder this season. There were eight openings, and owners prefer to pick head coaches from the offensive side of the ball.
The Chiefs’ offense was second to none, so Bieniemy should have been a highly attractive candidate. Kansas City led the league in both total yards and points scored. Bieniemy also played a key role in the development of superstar second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who’s on the short list for the Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player award.
Of all the potential candidates whom Wooten actively promoted, he was especially optimistic about Bieniemy, “just because of what you see from that offense,” Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said on the phone.
“We know that a lot of head coaches are coming from offense … and Eric is a guy who has been a big part of the top offense in the whole league. So just when you’re looking at it, you see a guy who’s the right guy. And then when you see the job he did with that quarterback … that really makes you feel good. Just go ask anyone in Kansas City. Go ask that team. They’ll tell you the same thing.”
Wooten spoke the truth.
Often, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has lauded Bieniemy for his work with Mahomes. The young quarterback also praises Bieniemy, with whom he spends much of his workday.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Reid said of Bieniemy. “I couldn’t give bigger praise for him.”
Mahomes, who led the league with 50 touchdown passes and an 81.7 Total QBR, said he appreciates that Bieniemy “holds me accountable, but can still explain it to me in such a way that makes it easy for me during the game.”
Besides the Chiefs’ overall success and Mahomes’ ascent to the elite quarterback tier, Bieniemy, in theory, should have received strong consideration for a bigger job because he works under Reid, whose coaching tree has borne a lot of fruit.
Two of Reid’s former assistant coaches have won Super Bowl championships (John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens and Doug Pederson of the Philadelphia Eagles). Another led a team to a Super Bowl (Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera). In his first season with the Chicago Bears, Matt Nagy, Bieniemy’s predecessor in Kansas City last season, led the team to a 12-4 record and the NFC North title.
Reid’s former underlings have thrived as head coaches, the Chiefs had a sensational season and Mahomes, during an era in which the development of young passers is paramount, could become the face of the NFL for a decade or more. The more one thinks about it, the more of a head-scratcher it is that none of the eight teams that had openings picked Bieniemy.
“I was hoping for him,” Reid said. “He sure is deserving.”
Some owners may have downgraded Bieniemy because Reid is the Chiefs’ offensive playcaller. In 2017, Reid ceded playcalling duties to Nagy late in the season. Although Bieniemy lacks the playcaller title on his résumé, he’s involved in helping Reid with the weekly offensive game plan. Then there’s Bieniemy’s influence on Mahomes.
“He’s helped me a ton,” Mahomes said. “He’s a special coach.”
After the Super Bowl, the Cincinnati Bengals reportedly plan to offer their job to Los Angeles Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor. He doesn’t call plays either. Until this season, new Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur had not called plays. The Arizona Cardinals hired failed former college head coach Kliff Kingsbury. He has no NFL coaching experience.
When it comes to Bieniemy, Wooten doesn’t understand what happened, “but he’ll just keep pushing forward,” Wooten said. “We know we have the right guys. He’s one of them.”
Wooten believes that. Convincing NFL owners is another matter.