The fact that Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is still not a head coach in the NFL, despite helming a world-destroying offense for three years, has reached such a state of absurdity that yesterday he had to clarify that, yes, he actually does still want a top job. It’s a question worth asking, as six of the seven head coach vacancies (and, critically, six of the six non-Texans vacancies) have been filled up, most recently by Dan Campbell—a guy who talked for a long time about gobbling kneecaps—and Nick Sirianni—the 39-year-old coordinator of a less successful offense who didn’t call plays.
Bieniemy has been the most obviously qualified candidate on the market for at least two years now, though there are certainly holes you can poke in his CV. As is the case with any offense led by a long-tenured brainiac off the field (Andy Reid) and a Terminator of a QB on the field (Patrick Mahomes), it is fair to at least question the scope of an offensive coordinator’s influence. Bieniemy also has an unsavory legal history from his playing days in the early ’90s. Maybe he’s not a good interview.
However, none of those excuses for not giving the man a shot hold any water when you look at the hires made this cycle. The Eagles just scooped up Sirianni, who never called plays in as a coordinator in Indianapolis, even if he was a well-regarded member of Frank Reich’s staff. You know who has called plays, including the famous quadruple spin play that helped win the Super Bowl, for an even better offense? Eric Bieniemy. Okay, maybe you like the, uh, Frank Reich coaching tree better than the Andy Reid coaching tree, though arboreally speaking, Bieniemy and Sirianni are really just separate branches of the extended Reid tree.
It is also hard to continue putting faith in the idea that Bieniemy’s interview skills have cost him job opportunities when Campbell just got the Lions job. Campbell spent his introductory press conference detailing which opponent body parts his team would metaphorically dismantle. He’s a 12-year-old who shotgunned a Red Bull’s idea of a good head coach, which is to say he is both a fitting hire for the Lions and a hotheaded maniac. Football lunks prize toughness and guileless self-belief, though “winning” seems like another quality to seek out.
The only other logical reason Bieniemy isn’t getting hired is the possibility that his smattering of arrests from 30 years ago are a bigger factor than they might seem. Again, this doesn’t hold up to scrutiny when you consider who else is getting work. Urban Meyer is just a few years removed from leaving his last high-profile job after being suspended for mishandling serious abuse allegations. He’s now the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. It’s not really useful to compare rap sheets, or draw lines between which off-field troubles make a coach untouchable, but even if this is the standard that Bieniemy falls short of, it is, at best, unevenly applied.
Bieniemy is not a flawless candidate or person, but he doesn’t need to be in order for it to be painfully obvious that he is being hard done by the NFL. If you look at the way the league operates every offseason, you can’t help but conclude that the bars one needs to clear to become an NFL head coach are not very high. They always seem to raise a little higher whenever Bieniemy is being considered, though, and there aren’t any charitable reasons why.