Seven NFL head coaching positions were open following the 2020 season. Eric Bieniemy interviewed for six of them. None hired the Chiefs offensive coordinator.
It’s the continuation of an ongoing NFL narrative about the hiring, or lack thereof, of Black head coaches. Bieniemy burst into head coach consideration a season ago before not being offered a job, and it was a repeat this time around with even more interviews. Former Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has called the situation “ridiculous,” while Kansas City receiver Tyreek Hill said it’s “very shocking.”
“The only thing I can do is be my most authentic self, that’s who I am, OK? I can only be me,” Bieniemy told reporters Tuesday in the lead-up to Super Bowl 55. “Some team has to want me. On top of that, there has to be some kind of collaboration, making sure the chemistry is a fit. So for whatever reason, that chemistry has not been a fit, there has not been that opportunity to connect. But that’s OK.”
Bieniemy has been with the Chiefs since 2013, first as running backs coach and now as offensive coordinator since 2018. He’s guided the Kansas City offense to consecutive Super Bowl appearances.
In the three years Bieniemy took over as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator, Kansas City’s offense has scored more touchdowns (178) than any other team in the NFL. That includes Patrick Mahomes’ MVP season in 2018 and Mahomes’ Super Bowl MVP honors in February 2020.
“(Bieniemy’s) track record speaks for itself,” Mahomes said in a radio interview with 610 FM in Kansas City. “The type of man he is, the way he can control and be a leader of the locker room and the way that he coaches and schemes he brings to us. If he doesn’t (get a position as a head coach), people are crazy.”
Viewed independently of other options, Bieniemy has two possible knocks on his resume: He’s never been a head coach, and he’s never officially called plays in the NFL. Kansas City’s play-calling duties fall to head coach Andy Reid, although time and again he’s given lots of credit for the explosive Chiefs offense to Bieniemy. Reid and Bieniemy have also both pointed out that it’s not a one-man show for Kansas City’s play-calling but rather a collaborative operation.
Leading up to Super Bowl 55, Reid didn’t speak too much about Bieniemy not being hired, but he did say he’d be looking into it.
“I did have the opportunity to talk to a lot of the either owners or general managers that worked to interview him, presidents and so on,” Reid told reporters Tuesday. “So I’ll be curious to hear their comments about how he did or why he wasn’t picked.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, pressed about the league’s lack of minority coaching hires in this year’s cycle, said “it wasn’t what we expected.”
“It’s not what we expect going forward,” Goodell told reporters Thursday. “We have to look at what went right and what went wrong. … They’re not the outcomes we wanted. We want it to be a natural process.”
When the Chiefs face the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl, they’ll be facing one of the most diverse coaching staffs in NFL history. That includes offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, the former Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback.
Leftwich, unlike Bieniemy, wasn’t even interviewed for head-coaching positions this offseason despite leading a 5,000-yard passing offense in 2019 with Jameis Winston and then transitioning to working with Tom Brady in 2020. Bruce Arians, Tampa Bay’s head coach, said he was “very, very pissed” about the lack of consideration for Leftwich.
“We have no answers because those things are not up to us,” Leftwich told NFL.com recently. “We’re not the ones making the decisions, so it has nothing to do with us. We get asked about it, but it’s tough for us because we can’t speak for someone else. You can only speak for your part that you have in it, your ability to coach, your ability to lead men. To be honest with you, I don’t even think about it, because the fun that I have here, and the group of people that I have here, allows me to focus on doing what I need to do to put these guys in positions to have success.”
Bieniemy, through all the discussion about his place in the future of NFL head coaching, has mostly kept his eyes straight ahead. Mahomes said there’s been “no difference” in Bieniemy’s behavior the past few weeks despite the job rejections.
There’s still a Super Bowl to play and a repeat title to pursue. And since no team hired Bieniemy, he’ll likely be back in Kansas City next season, potentially with thoughts of a three-peat on his mind. There hasn’t been a more potent offense in football during Bieniemy’s time as offensive coordinator, and he’s focused on making sure that stays true.
“I learned a long time ago to learn how to persevere through adversity,” Bieniemy said Tuesday. “But the beauty of it is, it’s not so much that I have to persevere – because that’s gonna take care of itself – it’s making sure that whatever is taking place with Eric Bieniemy isn’t becoming a distraction in us pursuing our dreams and our goals.”