Over the last several years, one of the continuing Kansas City Chiefs storylines has been about offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy’s search for an NFL head coaching job. During that time, he’s reportedly interviewed for more than a dozen such positions — but has never been offered the job.
Some say this has been because Bieniemy, as a coordinator, has never called the plays. Some speculate that he doesn’t interview well. One factor has been that as a Kansas City assistant, he’s been disadvantaged by the team making three consecutive appearances in the conference championship — and two in the Super Bowl — during the last three seasons; many jobs have been gone before he is available to take them.
But one thing is for sure: it hasn’t been because of a lack of support from his current employer. Back in January, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid gave yet another ringing endorsement of his longtime assistant coach.
“To be a head coach, if you’re going to survive in this business, you better be honest with the people you deal with — and you better have a plan for them,” Reid told reporters. “Guys want to know where they’re at and where they’re going — and most of us do. And when they don’t have that put in place, then they drift — and then that’s where teams fall apart. So he knows how to do that part — and do it well.”
Some believe Bieniemy’s lack of opportunity stems from diversity issues in the NFL.
In November, the league took a step to improve diversity in its head coaching ranks. Owners approved a proposal that would compensate teams with special compensatory draft picks when one of their minority assistant coaches was hired to become a head coach elsewhere. The idea was that the rule would encourage teams to hire more minority candidates to become assistants — and with a greater number of experienced minority assistant coaches available, there will eventually be more head coaches of color.
Four teams received one of these special third-round compensatory picks during the 2021 NFL Draft. Each will receive another in 2022.
But Bieniemy remains the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator — and for Chiefs fans, it’s good that Kansas City has been able to retain him for another season. But it also means that other promising assistant coaches like quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka face a career bottleneck in Kansas City.
Improving diversity among the league’s head coaches was one of the topics discussed during the NFL’s three-day “General Manager Forum and Quarterback Coaching Summit” last week — which concluded with an impassioned statement from Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice president of football operations.
“We want the best for our game, so this was confirmation that these young men are talented,” said Vincent, per NFL.com. “They’ve developed the best quarterbacks at the collegiate level. Now all of a sudden they can’t develop a quarterback, they can’t call plays but they’re coaching the top five draft picks year in and year out. Stop it. We’ve got work to do, but we’re committed to it.”
You might think that Bieniemy — who spoke to the conference and answered questions — would be frustrated by the whole process. But appearing with CBS Sports’ Jason LaCanfora on a Baltimore radio station last week, he said he remains optimistic.
“At the end of the day like I always tell folks, I don’t allow anything to dictate my outcome or my future,” he said. “So the only thing we can do, alright, is to continue going back to work and to continue chopping wood. And when it’s all said and done we all are blessed to be placed in the situations that we are in because — first and foremost — we do have a job.
“I am blessed and fortunate to be working with a Hall of Fame head coach. On top of that, the quarterback ain’t bad, either. And we’ve had a great deal of success since we’ve been here. So I’m not complaining at all. Would I like to be a head coach? Yes I would. But you know what, it’s going to happen, at the right place, with the right people, at the right time.”
And Bieniemy said that as an NFL coach, he doesn’t have time to worry about it anyway.
“Here is the thing,” he explained, “because of the success that we’ve had, I don’t have time to get frustrated. Because I have to get up and go to work the next day. We do this for a reason – we coach football to be the very best that we can. And for the past few years I have been through the interviewing cycle, and it hasn’t gone my way. But I have had something that can occupy my time through that whole entire process: I had to get up and go to work the next day to make sure that we are continuing to pursue our dream of winning a Super Bowl.”
Ultimately, Bieniemy said he couldn’t worry about things that are beyond his reach.
“So, yes, you get a little disappointed — and yes, ideally you want to get that opportunity to say, ‘I’m a head coach.’ But if it doesn’t happen, I can’t allow that to dictate anything else — because when it’s all said and done, I have to be at my best so the players can be at their best ... I don’t have time to waste on emotions that I cannot control based on an opinion that’s been formulated.”
So for at least one more season, Bieniemy will remain with the Chiefs. And in 2022, we’ll see if the right opportunity finally comes to him.