The NFL Coach Carousel closes at this time each year. And every year around this time, the amazing lack of diversity in the league’s forward-looking leadership roles shows its ugly head.
This year is no different. Oh, we’re taking a little break with the general manager as two African Americans – Brad Holmes and Terry Fontenot – have been appointed general managers for the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons, respectively. That brings the league-wide total of black GMs to * checks * four.
Yeah, that’s still not good enough for a league that is 69 percent black.
But the lack of diversity on the head coach’s side? After everything the NFL has done to improve in this area, including the recent amendment to the Rooney Rule, it remains an embarrassing embarrassment. Of the five head coaching jobs that were filled in this cycle, only one – the hiring of the jets for Robert Saleh, an Arab American – went to a minority.
Only two jobs as head coach, Houston and Philadelphia, are still open. So there remains the possibility that black coaches will not be closed again this cycle. The danger is definitely there, especially when you consider that of the 18 positions held as head coach over the past three years, only one has gone to a black coach. Yikes
Additionally, Saleh, Washington’s Ron Rivera, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin and Miami’s Brian Flores are the only head coaches in the league right now, and if you don’t see a problem with that, you just don’t want to see it. Especially since a top candidate – the offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs, Eric Bieniemy, a black man – is repeatedly missed for these jobs.
Eric Bieniemy has been an integral part of the Chiefs’ success over the past few seasons. His predecessors were hired as the NFL head coach, but he still hasn’t. (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)
“I mean, everyone knows what I think of Eric and what kind of head coach he’d be,” said head coach Andy Reid on Monday. “Maybe the best I can tell you is that I hope he goes to NFC when he has the opportunity. Those who get it are, in my opinion, a very happy organization. “
“[He’s] One of the few people I have come across with his leadership skills, the ability to lead men in this crazy game we are in, and that these guys can play at Pro Bowl level through his leadership. “Reid continued. “If he gets his hands on you figuratively, he’ll do wonders with athletes and maximize their skills on the field. It gives them that extra boost of being a productive person off the field and someone I would have loved myself for, my son who I played for. “
The story goes on
Eric Bieniemy has surpassed former well-known chiefs coordinators
Offering those words with a mixture of sincerity and confusion, Reid joined the litany of people I’ve spoken to in and around the Chiefs who don’t understand why Bieniemy isn’t a head coach yet.
The fact that Bieniemy, who has been the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator for three years, has been interviewed rather than hired for nearly a dozen jobs during that period remains absurd.
He is in a pipeline position. The two men who were Chiefs OC before him, Doug Pederson and Matt Nagy, became head coaches, with Pederson spending three years in the job before being hired by Philadelphia and Nagy before being hired by Chicago.
In the three years since Bieniemy took over the position, the Chiefs have won a combined 38-10 in the regular season and won a Super Bowl title last season. During this period, the Chiefs took first, third and second place in the offensive DVOA, according to Pro Football Outsiders. These grades are all better than in the previous five years, when they came from fourth to 15th place.
And yes, a lot of that has to do with Patrick Mahomes maturing into the league’s next generation quarterback. But Mahomes’ rise as a starter coincided with Bieniemy’s leadership – Mahomes destroyed lightning bolts, partly due to an understanding of the protections that Bieniemy specializes in, and helped him learn.
Some people will point out that Bieniemy does not name plays. It shouldn’t matter, as the Chiefs’ game-calling mechanism remains the same as it was when Nagy and Pederson held the position.
Reid is the primary game caller because he’s an offensive genius, but the offensive coordinator goes a long way in creating the fixture list, assisting (and sometimes making) game day calls. And Bieniemy is the one who talks to Mahomes in the headset before every game.
While Nagy and Pederson each had brief stints where it became publicly known that they were calling the Chiefs’ games, they received that responsibility only because the team’s offensive had been struggling during those years and badly needed a change. Since Mahomes started out in 2018, the offense has never had so much to contend with.
If anything, this should be seen as a boon to Bieniemy’s candidacy as head coach. People also forget that Reid never called directly before he became head coach.
Why Bieniemy would be a great job for Texans
The fact that Bieniemy has not yet been hired leads to assumptions about other possible reasons, such as questions about whether he is good at interviewing. For that matter, it’s hard to believe that Bieniemy hasn’t refined his presentation to teams after three years, especially since several players have touted him as a powerful speaker who demands attention and respect when dealing with the offense.
The fact that we even have to wonder if this is a problem – as well as his previous arrests, many of which took place nearly three decades ago – is frustrating. Bieniemy recently told USA Today that he doesn’t think anything in his past has held him back. On the other hand, many coaches without a flawless background (see: Urban Meyer) are constantly hired, based on their overall work as footballers, executives and cultural setters.
So should Bieniemy here, especially a team like Houston, whose star quarterback Deshaun Watson reportedly wanted him to be interviewed for the vacant job as Texans head coach. Bieniemy finally did an interview with the Texans recently, but it took him a while to even receive the interview request and the Texans’ inaction is said to have upset Watson.
I get Watson’s anger. I suspect he knows Houston would be lucky enough to have Bieniemy, as some who know the coach best believe that his attitude would give the Texans a chance to mend this broken relationship
“It would be over in five minutes,” a league source recently told Yahoo Sports.
Bieniemy is in many ways the coach Texans need, not the coach they deserve.
Even so, there are only 32 of these jobs, and it’s hard to imagine Bieniemy turning down the opportunity to work with a top 5 quarterback who will be in his prime at age 25, provided he can spread the word.
Will he get that opportunity or the one in Philly? Who knows.
In Bieniemy’s favor, his focus remained determined to help the Chiefs win another Super Bowl. Like many other African American coaches I’ve spoken to, he regularly distracts questions about how unfair all of this is and focuses on doing the best possible job at his job.
But I also believe that if Eric Bieniemy gets a job as head coach, he will be ready, prepared and (most importantly) extremely motivated to agree with a happy team, as Reid suggested.
I hope his chance comes sooner rather than later, which would be at least a positive step to help the NFL end this sad annual cycle.
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