While he presents himself as a pretty simple guy, Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is a very complex individual. His job — the one he gets paid millions of dollars to do — is to field a championship football team. Now that he has a Super Bowl championship on his résumé, there can be little argument that he’s done that as well as any head coach in NFL history.
But he is also a man who feels strongly about developing those around him — not just his players, but also his assistant coaches. The league is littered with former Reid assistants who moved on to become NFL coordinators and head coaches. Two of them — former Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson and former Philadelphia Eagles special teams coordinator John Harbaugh — even won Super Bowls as head coaches before their mentor did.
At the end of the 2018 season, another Reid protege — Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy — started attracting interviews to become an NFL head coach. Even though the Chiefs offense had put up historic numbers in a season that led to the doorstep of a Super Bowl berth, interviews with the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t lead to a job offer. This year — even though the Chiefs had actually made it to the championship game — interviews with the Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns and New York Giants didn’t lead to a position, either.
This ultimately led to Bienemy’s extended flirtation with the University of Colorado to become its head football coach — one that ended when Bieniemy withdrew himself from consideration for the job on Thursday night.
Chiefs players — and Reid himself — have certainly never shied away from praising their offensive coordinator.
“He has that mindset, work ethic and determination you need to be a head coach in this league,” quarterback Patrick Mahomes said of Bieniemy before his head coaching interviews following the 2018 season. “I know he’s had the interest, but you know he will still be 100 percent in on what we are doing here. He would be an amazing coach, but I’m excited I still have him here right now.”
“He’s very detailed and he pays attention to everything,” said running back Spencer Ware during training camp in 2018. “If you take a look at his résumé and the players he’s coached, and the way they play football, each and every play they get out there on the field. Having an entire offense with that same mentality is pretty exciting.”
“Most of all, you’re going to get a leader of men,” said Reid of Bieniemy just before Christmas. “That’s what he does. He knows football like the back of his hand. He is passionate about it and a great person. I’m a big fan of his. Don’t really want to lose him, but I have a feeling that’s going to happen. Somebody is getting a championship-caliber coach there.”
But no one did.
Is it because NFL teams are only interested in interviewing Bieniemy to satisfy the requirements of the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching positions? Is it because Bieniemy interviews poorly? Or is it because Bieniemy is viewed as a mere figurehead on a Chiefs offense that begins and ends with Reid?
In the case of the first, there’s little Reid can do. If NFL teams choose to ignore qualified head coaching candidates because of the color of their skin, that’s out of Reid’s control — and ultimately, those teams will pay a stiff price for remaining behind the times.
But if it’s an issue, Reid certainly can help Bieniemy learn how to present his strengths better. Reid famously got the head coaching job with the Eagles by appearing for the interview with binders full of information — as relayed to ESPN by Eagles president Joe Banner.
“He had a list of all of these coaches he had met and notes about them and even ordered them, like it was a draft board,” Banner said. “That tells you how much he appreciates surrounding himself with good people. He was looking for the best people as opposed to some coaches out there who are conscious of hiring people who aren’t threats.
”Andy realizes he can’t be successful unless he’s surrounded by people that actually make you better. He also realizes the better he makes those people, the better he is. Investing in the time it took to properly evaluate coaches and in trying to develop them were something he prioritized. When you do that and teach as well as he does, you’re going to have a lot of good coaches working for you.”
And Reid can do a better job of publicly emphasizing that whether or not Bieniemy calls the offensive plays during the game — something that Reid does simply because he likes to do it — Bieniemy is nonetheless responsible for the Chiefs offense.
When Reid is deciding on a play to call during a game, the laminated sheet he’s consulting doesn’t list all the plays in the team’s voluminous playbook. Instead, it is a list of plays that has been chosen for specific situations against the particular defense the Chiefs are facing that day — plays the offense has practiced in that context.
Creating that list requires many hours of film study and creative thinking — all of which is Bieniemy’s responsibility.
How do we know this? Because his former assistant coaches say so. Listen to his former assistant Ron Rivera, who told Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer what it was like to coach under Reid:
“One of the things you gotta give Andy credit for is the way he does things. It’s almost like it’s right out of Bill Walsh’s book, Finding the Winning Edge. When I was first with Andy, he encouraged me to go get it, so I read the book. And by reading the book, one of the things I learned off it was that everything we did with Andy was in the book. So I started seeing why—in the book, there are great explanations of why Bill Walsh did everything that he did. He trusts you. So by empowering you and giving you trust, you really do feel like, ‘Wow, this is mine, he’s given us an opportunity to take a true stake in what we do.’”
But Rivera also said that Reid believes that if his coaches don’t ultimately live up to their responsibilities, it’s his failure, too.
“I remember asking Andy, ‘You know, you never fire anybody. Why?’ He said, ‘Ron, two things. First of all, I hired you. If I think something’s not going well, I’m gonna work with you, I’m gonna train you and give you every opportunity to succeed. If I don’t do that, it’s on me, it’s my fault.’ So he gave us this book on teaching, it’s a little book on teaching. And in it, there are little things about the progression of learning, the progression of teaching, you teach everything from the core, from the base. Like a tree, everything grows up, you’ve got a firm foundation and then it branches out. That’s how I look at coaching, from having read that book.”
Fortunately for the Chiefs, Bieniemy will spend another year as the team’s offensive coordinator. And for his sake, we can hope that Reid will continue to help him find a way to become the head
coach teacher for another team — and continue to extend his mentor’s influence over the sport both men love.