OPINION: After the defensive and offensive coordinators for the losing team in Sunday’s Super Bowl took the last two open head coaching slots, one has to wonder how dedicated the NFL is in hiring Black coaches.
By Deron Snyder
For all we know, Eric Bieniemy could be the all-time sorriest hire as an NFL head coach.
If the Kansas City offensive coordinator ever got a chance, his tenure could stink worse than Nathaniel Hackett’s 4-11 with Denver or Kliff Kingsbury’s 28-37-1 with Arizona. He could do a lousier job than Adam Gase’s 9-23 with the New York Jets, or Joe Judge’s 10-23 with the New York Giants.
All of those coaches have been hired and fired since Bieniemy won his first Super Bowl as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator in 2019. He interviewed for several of those head coach jobs while waiting for his ring. Hell, he’s interviewed for 15 head coach jobs with 14 teams over the last four hiring cycles, but there he was Sunday, still in place winning another Super Bowl with the Chiefs.
Bieniemy absolutely might’ve been as terrible in Carolina if he’d beaten out Matt Rhule (fired at 11-27). But he also might’ve enjoyed success like Matt LaFleur (47-19 with Green Bay) or Zac Taylor (22-11 the last two seasons with Cincinnati). All secured their gigs since 2019; Bieniemy sipped champagne that season.
By now, Bieniemy could’ve been a big hit or a big miss at calling the shots. We don’t know. No team has given him a shot. His prospects at a head coaching job for next season ended Tuesday when the defensive and offensive coordinators from Sunday’s losing team got the final jobs. That possibly sets up a lateral move away from coach Andy Reid’s shadow.
That’s not how the process typically works for Reid’s top lieutenants. Two of Bieniemy’s predecessors — Matt Nagy and Doug Pederson — went from being under Reid’s wing to running their own shops in Chicago and Philly, respectively. They sat at the guru’s feet and their credibility rose. Bieniemy has excelled, too.
But his validity has been questioned.
Previous coordinators in Kansas City and other places get credit while working under so-called masterminds. But Bieniemy is cast as riding on Reid’s coattails, which the head coach disputes. “He’s been tremendous for us and I think tremendous for the National Football League,” Reid told reporters after the Super Bowl win. “I’m hoping he has an opportunity to go somewhere and do his thing where he can run the show and be Eric Bieniemy.”
The NFL and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes said Bieniemy has earned a shot at one of the 32 head coaching gigs. “He’s done everything the right way,” Mahomes said. “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, and I don’t know why he hasn’t been hired.”
Is it because he’s not the primary play caller? Chiefs backup QB Chad Henne said Bieniemy was directly responsible for the two wide-open touchdowns Kansas City scored Sunday in their comeback against Philly. Reid has always called plays but his OC provides plenty of input.
Is it because Bieniemy has been passed over so many times? Chiefs owner Clark Hunt worries that “it’s almost become a little bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy that he’s not getting the opportunity.”
Is it that he does poorly in interviews as alleged? Is it ancient history like the license suspension in 1991, the harassment allegations in 1993 or the DUI arrest in 2001 that some folks inexplicably bring up? Who’s spreading whispers and questionable concerns? Nothing on the surface suggests Bieniemy is an unworthy candidate.
Then again, his surface doesn’t reflect the wave of “whiz kids” and “offensive geniuses” hired recently, most of them white and under the age of 40.
Now 53, Bieniemy should remain a hot candidate but owners have been cold to him. If winning two out of three Super Bowls since 2019 isn’t good enough to merit a chance, only God knows what is. “When it comes to hiring, I can’t control what goes on in the owner’s head,” he told USA Today in 2020, when the Browns, Giants and Panthers interviewed him and passed.
“I can’t force them to make the decision. My job is to make sure that when I’m in there giving that interview, I’m being my most authentic self,” he said. “They get to see me, feel me for who I am and what I’m about.”
Meanwhile, we see and feel what these owners are about.
Brian Flores is suing the league after concluding that race is the holdup in hiring Black coaches. Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, seems to concur. “We’re still dealing with America’s original sin — slavery — and the misconception of who Black men are,” Vincent told the Washington Post. “So, we’re just trying different things.”
Again, Bieniemy might suck as a head coach. He wouldn’t be the first excellent coordinator who failed in the big office. Any list of worst coaching hires is filled with capable assistants who couldn’t cut it with more responsibility. Some are simply better suited as leaders just beneath the top rung. They usually get to show and prove.
But like too many coaches with a similar complexion, Bieniemy hasn’t gotten the protection for those opportunities.
It makes as much sense as denying Black quarterbacks a chance, and we know what that was about.