PHOENIX — Eric Bieniemy is trying to not get too far ahead of himself. Not yet. Not while his team is in Arizona for Super Bowl LVII, and not after years of watching head-coaching hiring cycles come and go without him.
Last year, the New Orleans Saints passed over the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive coordinator for their head-coaching job, and over the years Bieniemy has failed to get offers that many — including the Chiefs — believe he deserves as a head-coaching candidate.
“He’s been a huge part of the success that we’ve had over the last four or five years,” Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said. “He’s a great offensive coordinator. [Head coach Andy Reid] and I have both been on record saying he’d make an awesome head coach in the NFL, and I still believe that. I’ve seen his name mentioned in conjunction with a few offensive coordinator opportunities around the league, and I’m not surprised by that, given the success that we had, particularly this year.”
This year, Bieniemy said he has taken one interview, for the Indianapolis Colts’ head-coaching vacancy, which he believes went “great.” And he could be in the mix for at least a couple of offensive coordinator vacancies, including with the Baltimore Ravens and the Washington Commanders, who are four weeks into their search for a play caller. Making a lateral move from a Super Bowl contender might seem like an odd play, but gaining full control of play-calling could move Bieniemy closer to landing a head-coaching gig.
Since firing Scott Turner, the Commanders have interviewed six candidates — Pat Shurmur, Ken Zampese, Eric Studesville, Charles London, Thomas Brown and Anthony Lynn — but are believed to be waiting until they can talk to Bieniemy. And it’s possible such an interview will only come to fruition if the Colts don’t hire him.
Last February, Bieniemy signed a one-year deal to stay with the Chiefs for a 10th season — his fifth as offensive coordinator — but remained coy about whether he wants to return for an 11th and beyond, saying only that he’ll “have that conversation with Coach Reid” and they’ll talk about “everything.”
“We’ll see where that goes [with the Colts],” Bieniemy said Monday night. “As far as the offensive coordinator stuff, right now I am where my feet are. And right now I’m focused on helping us to win this game this weekend.”
Commanders Coach Ron Rivera, among others, often uses that same refrain of “being where your feet are.” Bieniemy says he has taken it to heart, especially as his name has surfaced during hiring cycles and amid the NFL’s struggle to diversify its coaching and executive ranks.
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The all-time leading rusher at the University of Colorado, Bieniemy played nine years in the NFL before turning to coaching, first at a Denver high school, then at his alma mater and UCLA before the Minnesota Vikings brought him on as running backs coach in 2006. In 2011, Bieniemy returned to Colorado to serve as offensive coordinator, and he took the running backs coach job with the Chiefs in 2013. He was elevated to offensive coordinator in 2018 — a jump that coincided with the emergence of Patrick Mahomes.
In Bieniemy’s first season as coordinator, Mahomes threw for more than 5,000 yards, was named the league’s MVP and guided Kansas City to its first conference championship game in 25 years. The Chiefs have been in the AFC title game every year since, and Mahomes has credited Bieniemy for some of his growth as a quarterback, notably with his weekly preparation.
“He’ll make sure you dot all your I’s and cross all your T’s,” Mahomes said. “… Make sure you have an Eric Bieniemy in your life, because he’ll make sure you’re ready to go.”
Although Reid runs the show in Kansas City, Bieniemy has been in lockstep.
Last offseason, the Chiefs overhauled their receiving corps, trading Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins, signing free agents JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, drafting Skyy Moore and later acquiring Kadarius Toney. The moves required tweaks to adjust to the new personnel.
“The coaches and Coach Bieniemy accepted the challenge,” Mahomes said. “We lost an all-time great receiver in Tyreek Hill, someone who did a lot of great things for us, but we got a lot of great receivers in as well. And so Coach Bieniemy and Coach Reid, they went in there and they learned what their strengths were, and we went out there and maximized that this year. And so it takes everybody. It’s not just the players — it’s the coaches, it’s everybody in that building to be in this game.”
Mahomes’s growth has come in tandem with Bieniemy’s, and each has credited the other (and Reid) for the team’s success.
“They’re all on the same page,” Hunt said. “They may have some disagreements, but by the time we get to game day, they’re on the same page, and Patrick almost knows what Eric and Andy are going to call before they call it. When you have that, you have something special.”
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The Chiefs’ success has continually raised questions about why Bieniemy hasn’t received a head-coaching opportunity.
“It’s so past deserved,” Mahomes said. “He’s done everything the right way. He’s been a part of this offense and this team for so long, holds everybody accountable, is creative in making up plays for us. I don’t know why he hasn’t been hired, but it’s been great for us.”
Bieniemy said the NFL is “working in the right direction” in trying to promote diversity and create more opportunities for minority coaches and executives, such as with the accelerator program it started last year. As he awaits an opportunity, he says he’ll stay true to his mantra and stay in the moment.
“It’s unfortunate that things haven’t quite worked its way out,” he said. “But think about this: I’m going to my third Super Bowl in the past four years. Who wouldn’t want that?”