For the second year in a row, one of the biggest storylines surrounding Super Bowl 55 is Eric Bieniemy’s head coaching future. Or lack thereof.
The Chiefs offensive coordinator has been in the mix for seemingly every opening the past two cycles. He has been turned down every time, including by five teams this cycle. Since the start of the 2016 season, only one conference champion failed to produce a head coach by the end of the next coaching cycle: last year’s Chiefs.
His misses have analysts wondering whether Bieniemy, 51, is another victim of a league that remains slow to promote Black assistants. Bieniemy isn’t going there.
“I did not ask to be the poster boy of this particular situation that I had experienced,” Bieniemy said Tuesday. “At the end of the day, the only thing that you want to do is be recognized for all the things that you have accomplished.”
It’s a long list.
As a player, he was a Heisman Trophy finalist on the 1990 Colorado team that shared the national championship, then spent nine years as an NFL running back. As a running backs coach, he led top-10 rushing offenses with the Buffaloes and helped Adrian Peterson set a Vikings rushing record. And as an offensive coordinator, he has coached in the AFC Championship Game every year and has the Chiefs four quarters away from back-to-back Super Bowl wins.
“If he wins this Sunday … there’s nothing more he can do,” ESPN analyst Louis Riddick said.
Beyond the resume, Bieniemy’s players and colleagues gush about his work ethic, intensity and personality. All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce considers him a father figure in the organization.
“He demands greatness out of every single player that plays for him,” Kelce said. “Whether or not they have Hall of Fame potential or whether they’re a guy trying to make the team that year, I think he gets the greatest out of the guys that he coaches — and that’s very rare.”
Bieniemy’s boss, Andy Reid, raves about him, too, calling him “as ready as anybody” for a head coaching job. That’s why Reid is so upset that one hasn’t materialized.
“I was expecting it last year, and it didn’t happen,” Reid said. “I definitely thought it would happen this year, and it didn’t happen.”
Which leads to one of the NFL’s biggest questions: Why hasn’t it happened yet? Why isn’t Eric Bieniemy a head coach?
Recent rumblings accused Bieniemy of not interviewing well. Considering how engaging and personable he was during potentially awkward questions in a media Zoom session Tuesday, that’s hard to believe.
Bieniemy’s background includes legal run-ins, including an arrest in 1993 for allegedly grabbing a female parking attendant by the neck (she told police the harassment startled her but did not hurt her). But a years-old sexual assault indictment didn’t stop the Lions from hiring Matt Patricia three years ago.
Although he isn’t Kansas City’s primary play caller — Reid is — that argument falls flat.
Neither Doug Pederson nor Matt Nagy called all the plays under Reid, either. Both got head coaching jobs; Pederson won a Super Bowl for the Eagles, and Nagy has taken the Bears to two playoff appearances. Riddick sees no major differences between Bieniemy and the paths of Pederson and Nagy (two of Riddick’s close friends).
Besides, Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich does call his team’s plays and has drawn effusive praise from the legendary Tom Brady. Leftwich didn’t even get a head-coaching interview this cycle, much less an offer.
“When you put all of that together, I have a hard time believing that (Bieniemy) has not been hired simply because he doesn’t call plays or he doesn’t interview well,” Riddick said. “I think that’s flat-out (crap).”
If there are any other reasonable explanations for why Bieniemy remains stuck as an assistant, Reid doesn’t know them, either.
“I don’t understand everything,” Reid said. “I don’t sit in those meetings to interview head coaches. But I would just tell you that whoever gets him, whenever they get him, will be very, very lucky.”
A day or two after the confetti falls at Raymond James Stadium, Bieniemy plans to start calling around the league, asking front office officials for feedback on what he could do to make him a better candidate in the next cycle.
Until then, he’s keeping any disappointment or resentment compartmentalized.
“You move on by making sure that we’re focused on the goal,” Bieniemy said, “and the goal has always been to win the Super Bowl.”
And the NFL’s top assistant is four quarters away from making that happen — again.
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