All the NFL head coaching vacancies have been filled, but Eric Bieniemy faces one final audition to prove he is worthy of an opportunity to be a head coach this league.
That comes in Super Bowl 2020 when Bieniemy serves as the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs, who face the 49ers for the Lombardi Trophy Sunday in Miami.
Apparently, Bieniemy’s résumé wasn’t good enough to fill one of the five openings created at the end of the 2019 regular season despite all the success the Chiefs have enjoyed in recent years. That seems a bit unusual considering the NFL is a copycat league, and hiring assistants, particularly coordinators from successful teams, is the normal way of doing business.
Maybe there just weren’t enough vacancies. Two teams took proven head coaches, with former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy going to the Cowboys and Ron Rivera hired as the new head coach in Washington after being fired in Carolina. When the highly sought after Baylor coach, Matt Rhule, was given a rich deal in Carolina, that left only two open spots. The Browns filled theirs by selecting Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
The Giants, meanwhile, interviewed Bieniemy, but ultimately selected Joe Judge, a special teams coach with the Patriots, to be their third head coach since 2017.
Judge was a surprise choice, given he has only been a coordinator or had any real duty with quarterbacks. Given the recent failed choices of Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur and the Giants needing to develop quarterback Daniel Jones, the choice of Judge will continue to be scrutinized.
Apparently, Judge’s connection to Bill Belichick was enough for him to leapfrog to the top of the Giants’ list. Thus far, Bieniemy’s connection to Andy Reid hasn’t gotten him past an initial interview.
Maybe that changes after this week. If it’s a big week for the players, it’s a big week for Bieniemy, too. This is the week he can tell his story to the masses, and his players can talk about the impact he has made on their careers and on this season. It’s a week when Reid can dispel the notion that Bieniemy doesn’t really have much to do with the offense. What happens this week could determine whether Bieniemy becomes a serious head-coaching candidate next year.
With the lack of an African-American being hired as a head coach this year, there has been renewed talk of the impact of the Rooney Rule, which ensures each franchise interviews minority candidates for head coaching and senior operations positions. It remains necessary if nothing more than to keep minority candidates in front of those doing the hiring.
Bieniemy deserves a stronger look than he has gotten. He was an offensive coordinator at his alma mater, the University of Colorado, before coaching the Chiefs’ running backs and then becoming the offensive coordinator in 2018.
As the offensive coordinator, he has helped develop one of the most prolific offenses and one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league. He has also worked alongside one of the most successful coaches in NFL history.
Being a Reid assistant hasn’t been a problem in the past. The Ravens, Bills, Eagles and Bears all have current head coaches who were coordinators under Reid. The common criticism is that Reid calls the plays, but neither Doug Pederson nor Matt Nagy called plays and they became head coaches for the Eagles and Bears, respectively, after holding the title of offensive coordinator under Reid.
“It seems like play-calling is always the issue,” Reid said recently. “[Bieniemy] called during the preseason, and he helps me with all the setups. The only reason I do it is because I enjoy doing it. If that’s the issue, that shouldn’t be an issue.”
Should the Chiefs win the Super Bowl against a strong 49ers defense, Reid will get plenty of credit. But some of that credit has to fall on Bieniemy the next time he interviews for a head coaching job. Big week for the players; big week for the coaches, too.