We need to talk about Eric Bienemy betting on himself and moving to a play calling role with the Washington Commanders.
Year after year, the goalposts were moved for Eric Bienemy.
He reportedly interviewed for 17 of the 23 NFL head coaching job openings since 2019. And unless he was walking into the room with drool on his chin and his fly unzipped, the collective decision to hire anyone but him has become one of the more frustrating and fascinating aspects of the yearly coaching carousel.
And if he was out here tanking interviews, you can absolutely guarantee that the NFL’s premier newsbreakers like Ian Rapoport and Adam Schefter would assist any owner or general manager in anonymously slandering Bienemy- and that just hasn’t happened.
I’ve talked at length before that it’s not as simple as racism. People hire who they’re comfortable with, whether through word of mouth, prior work experience, or a cookie cutter idea of what a good leader looks like. You’re far more likely to get an owner to sign off on a hire because of the way an interviewee makes them feel than because of that candidate’s offensive or defensive schematics.
Think about the way we elect politicians. The best person to enact positive policy change is rarely the person we’d be most comfortable having a beer with, but that’s an enormous factor in the way that we vote.
The “likeability” factor influencing our decisions is probably a good reason why so many things in this country are broken. And it’s definitely a reason why there’s an average of a 20% turnover year over year in the NFL’s head coaching ranks.
These rich old men would rather pay multi year buyouts to men that remind them of their grandsons than give a shot to someone that has been a part of 10 consecutive winning seasons, eight consecutive playoff appearances, five consecutive AFC Championships, and three different Super Bowl runs.
Around now is when I’ll have people start bursting through the wall to tell me that “Eric Bienemy doesn’t call plays!” First of all, it’s a collaborative effort in Kansas City. Just ask Doug Pederson, who got hired by the Eagles after sharing play calling duties with Reid. Or ask Matt Nagy. Or ask Brad Childress.
It’s extremely common to hire a head coach that isn’t the primary play caller, and it’s certainly more common to hire someone that didn’t call the offense in their previous job than it is to be a successful head coach that does call your team’s offense! Andy Reid, Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan are the exception, not the rule.
Maybe the Colts and Cardinals hires will work out. The Colts are in need of someone that can get the most out of a young quarterback, and so maybe it makes sense for them to go with Shane Steichen, who helped Jalen Hurts become a Super Bowl caliber player over the last two years.
But Arizona? They went from giving offensive “genius” Kliff Kingsbury a five year extension last year, to hiring a defensive minded head coach whose defense gave up about a billion second half points on the Cardinals home field earlier in the week. Maybe they figured that Kyler Murray already showed enough contempt for one of Patrick Mahomes former coaches, but the difference between Bienemy and Kingsbury is that one of them spends every January on a beach and one spends every January on a sideline.
And one of them won more games at State Farm Stadium this season than the other did in eight tries this season. Yikes.
At the end of the day, Eric Bienemy was forced to leave a great job, working for a great man, and coaching one of the greatest talents we’ve ever seen, just to prove to his doubters that he checks more boxes than many of his peers.
It’s hard to feel sorry for someone whose fallback plan of staying with the Chiefs would be most coaches’ fantasy, but he’s walking into a Washington Commanders situation where the offense was actually good last year. Seriously, look it up. Despite all the issues at QB, and the inability to finish drives, and the turnover problems, this was a team that moved the ball well despite being in a division with three playoff defenses.
Bienemy is walking a tightrope for a traditionally snakebitten franchise, with no guarantee that success is going to earn him the opportunity he’s looking for.
You have to respect his decision, and the risk involved. There’s gonna be a whole lot of NFL GM’s and fan bases rooting for his failure simply to justify past decisions. And even if he does succeed in Washington D.C., the only thing he’ll be earning is an opportunity to have those same people root for him to fail as a head coach, all to say that they’ve been right all along.
But for every hater, like his former RB Shady McCoy, Bienemy has legions of people like me, and Patrick Mahomes, that are much more interested in seeing him prove the doubters wrong and carve out a place for himself as a head coach in this league.
And if that day ever comes, the “I told you so’s” are going to rain from the sky like Super Bowl confetti. And I’ll be here for it.
Let that sink in.