The Denver Broncos chose a relatively inexperienced pool of head coaching candidates in their search for the next franchise figurehead. However, one exception to that rule is Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who has been one of the trendier coaching candidates each of the last few years, yet remains unable to land a job.
Why has he been unable to land a job and will the Broncos be the team to finally change Bieniemy’s fortunes?
Broncos Country should be very familiar with Bieniemy, considering how well-known he was as a member of the Colorado Buffaloes’ football program.
Bieniemy was widely recruited coming out of high school in California, as he recorded over 2,000 rushing yards, scored 30 rushing touchdowns, and earned second-team All-American honors his senior year. Bieniemy chose to join the Buffaloes, where he quickly became a star, earining All-American honors and finishing third in Heisman voting as Colorado nabbed their only National Championship.
During his playing career with the Buffaloes and in the league, Bieniemy had several off-field issues. First, he was arrested in a bar fight in Boulder in 1988, per Sports Illustrated. Then, according to the L.A. Times, in 1990, Bieniemy received so many traffic violations that his license was eventually suspended, and he would be pulled over with that suspended license in 1991, and ultimately failed to appear for his court date. Also in 1990, Bieniemy pleaded no contest to interferring with a firefighter, according to the Orlando Sentinel. According to that same Sentinel article, in 1993, Bieniemy was arrested in Boulder after sexually harrassing a female parking attendant with some of his friends, and was banned from the university’s campus.
Bieniemy would then spend almost a decade in the NFL as a running back, before he finally retired in 1999, and entered the coaching realm in 2001. His first job was as the Buffaloes’ running backs coach, and in his first year on the job, he would be arrested for a DUI. He would remain with the Buffaloes until 2003, when he left to hold the same position with UCLA, before eventually transitioning to the NFL to be the Vikings’ running backs coach.
After four years spent as Minnesota’s running backs coach, he was promoted to being the team’s assistant head coach in 2010, but in 2011 he went back to Boulder to become the University of Colorado’s offensive coordinator. Unfortunately, his run as the school’s offensive coordinator was unsuccessful, and in 2013, he was hired back into the NFL by the Chiefs to be their running backs coach.
With then-coordinator Matt Nagy leaving for the Bears job, after five years coaching the team’s backs, Bieniemy became Kansas City’s offensive coordinator, and took the franchise’s offense to never-before-seen heights. The addition of Patrick Mahomes, emergence of Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, and guidance of brilliant offensive mind Andy Reid were undeniable factors in the team’s success, but the four seasons that the Chiefs’ offense has been coordinated by Bienemy have been the best four-year offensive-stretch by any Chiefs team, or any Reid-led operation, ever.
Those four years of offensive coordinating success has led to Bieniemy receiving countless head coaching interviews — and even an offer from the Colorado Buffaloes in 2020, which Bieniemy declined — but Bienemy has yet to get an NFL head coaching job. Is this the off-season that finally changes?
Of the candidates that the Broncos are interviewing, the only one with a better resumé and track record of success is Dan Quinn. With 14 years of NFL coaching experience and six years of coordinating experience, only Quinn can make an argument that he is more experienced.
That proven record of success over a long period of time, at multiple different stops, and in different roles is very promising. The comments Patrick Mahomes and other Chiefs players have publicly made about their love for Bieniemy and their own personal frustration with the NFL’s lack of desire to hire him to be a head coach are another positive. It shows how much his players care for him and want to play for him, and that would be a nice change to the Broncos’ locker room after the Vic Fangio era.
“His track record speaks for itself,” Mahomes said, according to Pro Football Talk. “The type of man he is, the way he can control and be a leader of the locker room and the way that he coaches and schemes he brings to us. If he doesn’t [get a job], people are crazy.”
Lastly, the Andy Reid coaching tree has been remarkably successful in their head-coaching ventures, in stark contrast to the Belichick tree. John Harbaugh, Sean McDermott, Ron Rivera, Doug Pederson and Frank Reich have all been extremely successful since leaving Reid, and even the failures — like Matt Nagy — experienced far more success during their blunders than Denver has experienced in over a half-decade.
The off-field track record for Eric Bieniemy is horrific, especially when compared to the other head coaching candidates out there.
It would be one thing if Bieniemy had one or two irresponsible moments, but the fact that he had these repeated lapses in judgement on a regular basis has to raise questions about whether or not it’s a pattern of behavior for him. He hasn’t had any legal trouble since his DUI arrest in 2001, but most head coaching candidates don’t have this many legal red flags at any point in their past, so Bieniemy only gets so much credit for these instances being in the rearview.
There have also been reports that Bieniemy is a poor interviewer, and that his inability to sell NFL teams on his vision — and potentially explain his past legal issues — has been a large factor.
Finally, it should be noted that, although Bieniemy has experienced tremendous success in Kansas City as an offensive coordinator, Reid is heavily in offensive play-designing and game-planning, and has been the play-caller for a majority of the games during Bieniemy’s tenure. In fact, Reid has taken back offensive play-calling opportunities from Bieniemy multiple times.
The NFL, much like many American institutions, has long struggled with racist hiring practices as the result of problematic prejudices, perceptions and stereotypes. This is undeniable as there is now just one black head coach in a league where nearly 60 percent of the player base is black, according to a 2019 University of Central Florida study.
It wasn’t too long ago that many wrongly thought a black person couldn’t coach in the NFL, and the fact that their representation remains so disproportionate (3% of NFL head coaches are black, while 14% of the U.S. population is black) is evidence that remnants of these outdated philosophies still exist among the wealthy, white population that makes up the overwhelming majority of upper-level NFL decision-makers.
Once we agree that racism is an undeniable fact in the hiring process of NFL teams, we can agree that it must have been a factor in these teams’ hiring process as it regarded Eric Bieniemy, and every other coach of color that has interviewed for a head coaching job, for that matter.
However, the fact that Bieniemy has failed to receive jobs he interviewed for, which ultimately went to a non-white coaching candidate, suggests that there is more at play in his failure to receive a job than just these racist hiring practices.
His past off-field issues are a major concern, and if he’s unable to interview and ease the concerns of the interviewing franchise, that could be a very large part of the reason why he’s still in Kansas City.
At the end of the day though, Bieniemy is one of the most experienced, most qualified, and most successful candidates the Broncos are interviewing, and his resumé — paired with the success of the Andy Reid coaching tree — might be enough to make Denver’s front office swoon and convince them to look past the numerous, undeniably concerning red flags.
Bieniemy deserves a chance to be a head coach at some point, but it’s an undeniably large gamble as an owner will have to look past a lot of red flags. With Denver’s ownership situation unsolidified, and Paton working to appease a boss he doesn’t have yet, it feels unlikely that the Broncos would make such a risky hire.