The Houston Texans opted to move on from Bill O’Brien this week, naming a familiar face to Kansas City Chiefs fans, Romeo Crennel, as its interim head coach. The Texans job will be one of the six to seven openings after the season — that number based upon the average of the past 10 years.
Very shortly after the O’Brien news broke came an expected wave — that the Texans needed to go after current Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.
Bieniemy, 51, had the good fortune of becoming the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator in 2018, just as Patrick Mahomes — that year’s NFL MVP — took the helm as the team’s starter. Matt Nagy had left a vacancy when he became head coach of the Chicago Bears, about two years after Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson had left the position under head coach Andy Reid.
It began to feel like Reid’s coaching tree was more like a coaching stream.
But as is well known now, the stream stopped during the 2019 offseason — and it felt even more plugged up a year later, as Bieniemy was shut out again. Bieniemy has reportedly interviewed with the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns and New York Giants — and none of those led to a position. He also reportedly turned down an interview from the Arizona Cardinals. A few of the jobs went to suitors with far less experience.
Watching Pederson and Nagy earn jobs — as he has been turned down numerous times despite the Chiefs’ success over the last two seasons — has had to have been maddening for Bieniemy. The Chiefs have gone 28-8 in the regular season since Bieniemy has taken over as OC, winning last year’s Super Bowl, too.
Due to injuries and other factors, the Chiefs had to rely on four different running backs with at least 35 carries in 2019, combining for 1,836 scrimmage yards. Bieniemy was the Chiefs’ running backs coach for five years prior to becoming coordinator, grooming the likes of Jamaal Charles, Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West and Kareem Hunt. Before that, he pushed Adrian Peterson from 1,341 rushing yards as a rookie to 1,760 as a sophomore.
His predecessors, Pederson and Nagy, were quarterbacks coaches prior to their rise, so it is sometimes thought that perhaps the running backs track did not grant Bieniemy the play-calling experience necessary to serve as an offensive head coach — like Reid, his mentor.
But something happened recently that might shift those views.
Catch and release
Due to some self-inflicted wounds, the Chiefs — who had dominated most of Week 3’s Monday Night Football — found themselves in a one-score game with the Baltimore Ravens. Needing a touchdown to take back control of the game, the Chiefs called a play in which left tackle Eric Fisher reported as an eligible receiver, leaking out to the left.
With the “Big Fish” being the play’s recipient, the Chiefs called the play “Catch and Release.”
“That was EB’s (Eric Bieniemy) play,” Reid later revealed. “He had been bugging me about it since we were on the plane coming back from the Chargers that it would be a good one.”
After the game, quarterback Patrick Mahomes mentioned how Bieniemy suggested the Chiefs run the 49-yard touchdown play to Mecole Hardman because of the looks they were seeing.
Asked about the Chiefs’ play-design process this week, Reid noted how the offensive coordinator runs brainstorming sessions with the offensive coaching staff.
“He grabs the coaches and they come up with these ideas and we roll,” explained Reid. “Then, they let me in on it, so I know what’s going on. One thing Eric is is a phenomenal leader of men. And he makes everyone around him better — and his knowledge of the game is second to none. That’s why I can answer questions and still look in the mirror and feel good about doing it. I know how good he is and what a good football coach he is and a great person.”
Bieniemy has learned to design (and call) plays from the best in the world, and he will bring that — and the lessons he has learned off the field — with him when he does finally get his overdue opportunity.
“I’ve learned a lot coaching under coach Reid,” said Bieniemy. “And it just doesn’t all have to do with football. There’s things — how you handle yourself as a man in this world, as an employee — how you treat people... on top of that, working with him and hand in hand, just some of the things — I can’t reveal all of the secrets, but, just understanding what you’re good at and what are the things that you want to go out and attack when game-planning?
“So it’s making sure that you’re utilizing all your personnel the correct way and giving those guys to go out there and be their best. And on top of that, allowing their personalities to show.
“One thing that you learn is it’s all about dealing with people and having great people skills to maximize who they are, so they can be the very best they can be.”
A ‘leader of men’
When it comes to the Houston Texans, I do not believe there would be a better fit for Deshaun Watson — the forever-draft cousin of Patrick Mahomes — than Bieniemy, who has been there for so much of Mahomes’ early success. Bieniemy’s results have earned him that look. But I’d contend he deserves even more than that.
Bieniemy would have likely taken one of the aforementioned jobs, but perhaps his wherewithal will afford him the silver lining of choosing from a few offers this next offseason.
The wait has been nothing short of ridiculous, but here’s to hoping that will lead him to the best possible situation for success.