Eric Bieniemy Could Be NFL's Hottest Coaching Candidate Next Year

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJanuary 14, 2019

Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy walks on the sideline during an NFL football against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, in Cleveland. The Chiefs won 37-21. (AP Photo/David Richard)
David Richard/Associated Press

Don't sleep on Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy as the next successful head coach from Andy Reid's coaching tree.

The breadth of Reid's reach is impressive, as six former assistants are currently head coaches.

Reid explained the following to Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer, reflecting on his time under Mike Holmgren from 1995 to 1996:

"There are things where you say, 'Well, if I ever have my chance to do this … And who knows if I'm ever gonna have the chance, I'm the tight ends coach!' But it's like, 'Oh man, I love this,' or 'I could do this.' And then I'd ask questions on the things I didn't really understand, and he [Holmgren] was willing to share that with me. So I do the same thing with my guys."

Bieniemy is prepared to follow in the footsteps of a Super Bowl-winning coach (Doug Pederson) and a top candidate for this season's Coach of the Year Award (Matt Nagy).


Editor's note: This is the second installment in B/R's "Next Belichick?" series, which profiles some of the top up-and-coming coaches. You'll get to know more about the following coaches in the coming weeks:

Part 1: Kliff Kingsbury

Part 2: Eric Bieniemy

Part 3: Kris Richard

Part 4: Josh McDaniels


           

Master Planner

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 23: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs and teammate Anthony Sherman #42 stand with head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy in the fourth quarter of the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Arr
David Eulitt/Getty Images

Big Red is the Chiefs' game-day maestro, but he receives plenty of help, particularly from Bieniemy. According to ESPN.com's Adam Teicher, the running backs coach-turned-coordinator "helps assemble the playbook and weekly game plans and runs the offensive meetings." Bieniemy also serves as the voice that quarterback Patrick Mahomes hears in his helmet on game days.

"We have a lot of plays, but when he comes in—whether it be about protections or the kind of reads [we need to make]—he tries to simplify it and make it as easy as possible for the quarterback," backup signal-caller Chad Henne explained about Bieniemy's approach, per Yahoo Sports' Terez Paylor.

The 49-year-old coach spent nine seasons playing running back for the San Diego Chargers, Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles. He also understands the league's current trends and where they're headed.

"If you know anything about me and what I did at Colorado as the offensive coordinator, people would be shocked and surprised," Bieniemy said. "People look at me sideways because I'm a running back, and they think I always want to run the ball. No. I understand the importance of the passing game, and I understand the importance of making sure we're pushing the ball down the field."

Bieniemy helped construct the league's top-ranked offense, which averaged 425.6 yards per game. Mahomes, meanwhile, put together one of the greatest seasons in league history with 5,097 passing yards and 50 touchdowns.

          

More Than Ready

BOULDER, CO - SEPTEMBER 29:  Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy leads the Colorado Buffaloes against the UCLA Bruins at Folsom Field on September 29, 2012 in Boulder, Colorado. UCLA defeated Colorado 42-14.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Being a long-tenured coordinator isn't a prerequisite to becoming a head coach. Pederson and Nagy combined to be Reid's offensive coordinator for five years. They only had eight years of being assistant coaches before taking over the position.

Bieniemy holds an edge over both. He has 10 years of experience as a position coach, with three years as an offensive coordinator.

He's a detail-oriented coach who may be coming from a slightly different background than most offensive coordinators who come up through the ranks around quarterbacks. But nothing is going to escape Bieniemy's reach.

"When he brings it, he's bringing it, and it's every day," Reid said, per Teicher. "He doesn't let one thing slide. ... This is him. It's attention to detail and 'I'm going to make sure my closet is clean and your closet better be clean, too. If not, I'm going to help you clean it.'"

Bieniemy added, "I take a lot of personal pride in making sure everything is dotted, T's are crossed and everything is absolute."

Being an NFL head coach is akin to being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Candidates know where their strengths lie, but it's important to have a solid grasp of an organization's entire operation.

           

Commands Respect

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Uncertainty surrounds any candidate who hasn't previously served as an NFL head coach. The resume only gets an interview. How someone handles the responsibility of leading the locker room and the franchise is far different.

Great play-callers don't automatically turn into great head coaches. Norv Turner, Romeo Crennel and Wade Phillips are three of the best play-callers the game has ever seen, yet they were middling head coaches. Some coordinators don't have the mental makeup to lead. This won't be a problem for Bieniemy, who demands respect as a former player and coach, even from superstars.

Former Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress, who worked alongside Bieniemy for 10 seasons, explained how his colleague expected the best from the best:

"He coached Adrian Peterson as hard or harder than anybody. He was unmerciful. He was not about to let him be just a guy. Eric made sure he stepped with the right foot. He made sure he understood pass protection and how he fit into the passing scheme. For years, he had just been a tailback, and they handed him the ball and told him to run.

"Eric taught him how to play the game. He would drill down and ask him after a play, 'What were you looking at on that run? What did the [defensive tackle] do? You can't tell me? Then you can't run that play if you can't tell me.' He would throw him out of drills for that."

Respect is earned, and Bieniemy's approach and track record working with Peterson and Mahomes show he can build a rapport with his top players.

"He'd be an awesome head coach," Mahomes said, per Paylor. "He has that mindset, that work ethic and that determination that you need to be a head coach in this league."

        

Missed Opportunities

Steven Senne/Associated Press

Multiple teams passed on the chance to hire Bieniemy this offseason. The only two that haven't announced their new head coachesthe Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins—are expected to go in different directions.

Perhaps Bieniemy's past scared teams off. A 2001 DUI during his first stint as a coach at his alma mater is alarming. Multiple incidents as a player for the Colorado Buffaloes are as well. But no problems have arisen since he entered the NFL ranks.

Others may be wary that Bieniemy's background involves running backs instead of quarterbacks.

"I think the big thing is teams are looking for quarterback guys," a league source told Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio. "Matt [Nagy], Doug [Pederson] are both former quarterbacks and former quarterback coaches."

Even so, the Chiefs' offensive coordinator interviewed with four organizations—the Bengals, Dolphins, New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to the Kansas City Star's Brooke Pryor.

"It gives you the opportunity to see things from a different perspective," Bieniemy said, per Florio, "but on top of that it's one of those things that, 'Hey, you know what, I've been working a lot of years to be put in this situation to have this opportunity.'"

A year from now, Bieniemy should be the most sought-after head coaching candidate if the Chiefs offense continues to dominate.

        

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.

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