All these analysts (yes, including yours truly) and talking heads who used his situation to shine a light on the NFL’s diversity problem in its head coaching ranks? He didn’t campaign for that, either.
Bieniemy, 51, appears to be touched by the way that most of the football world agrees that it’s ridiculous that he interviewed 14 times with 13 teams over the past three seasons but still isn’t a head coach in the league. However, he didn’t get this far in life wallowing in “could’ve” and “should’ve.”
Bieniemy remains a key cog for a team that has a chance to be the first back-to-back Super Bowl champion since the 2004 season. He got to this moment by consistently focusing on the next thing. That’s why, when I asked him Tuesday afternoon about all the publicity he has recently received, he chuckled heartily, almost as if he could finally stop waiting for the right moment to say it.
“No, I did not ask to be the poster boy of this particular situation that I have experienced,” Bieniemy said with a laugh. “At the end of the day, the only thing that you want to do is be recognized for all the things that you’ve accomplished and for whatever reason, that has not happened.”
That’s OK, Bieniemy added. The only thing he knows how to do is to just go back to work.
“Because that’s who Fern Handy Gibson raised, OK?” Bieniemy said. “You didn’t know who that was? It’s my mother. She raised me to make sure that I stayed focused, and I just continue chopping wood.”
Chopping wood. It’s a phrase Bieniemy repeats, one he drills into the heads of every one of his players, many of whom also could predict the way Bieniemy would handle the disappointment of again being left out of the exclusive 32-member club of NFL head coaches.
For instance, when I asked Patrick Mahomes on Tuesday if he has noticed a difference in Bieniemy since the latest coaching cycle came to a close last week, Mahomes shook his head, his voice actually rising with enthusiasm.
“Honestly, I mean, there’s been no difference [with him] — I think that’s a big thing with him,” Mahomes told me. “And what feeds into this team, especially in a year like this, is he always preaches [having] control, and [controlling] what you can control, and that’s your attitude, your work ethic every single day. And that’s how he’s been.
“I mean, obviously, you know, he’s disappointed he doesn’t get the opportunity to become a head coach after the season. But he knows that all he can do is make himself and his team better every single day. He brings that mindset every single day, and it helps us be the best team that we can possibly be.”
Mahomes would know. Bieniemy is the last man Mahomes hears in his helmet before every play. He’s also the man who has helped Mahomes become a master against the blitz at the ripe old age of 25, since Bieniemy, a former running back, is so adept at identifying blitz tendencies and teaching Mahomes appropriate counter measures.
“I mean protection-wise, he’s the best of it as they come,” Mahomes told me. “The fact that he gives me every single tool that is needed so that I know exactly what to do — even if I get an unscouted look on a blitz — helps me go out there and be comfortable in the pocket and be able to get us to the right place in the right read.
“It comes straight from him, it’s his study of the opponent’s defense.”
Bieniemy is good at this because of his attention to detail at the task at hand.
“The goals have never changed,” Bieniemy told me. “We want to win the AFC West, which we did. We want to establish home-field advantage, which we did, and then we want to win the Super Bowl. That’s always our focus in this building, so my job is to make sure not only are guys focused on it, but I also had to practice what I preach.”
Until the offseason, that is. That’s when Bieniemy will, as he has every year after a disappointing head coaching cycle, devote time to improving himself as a coach in various facets. Whether it’s spending time talking to staff and players at every level, tweaking his head coaching book (which is essentially his detailed plan for running a team) or simply sharpening his offensive expertise, Bieniemy will look to return in 2021 as an even better coach.
A part of that, he added, is spending some time mentoring other young coaches.
“[With] all the knowledge and wealth that I have gained in this industry,” Bieniemy told me, “I need to make sure that I’m passing this information along to the next man, so he has an opportunity to climb up that ladder as well.”
His current job is a pretty darn good one, given his tendency to harp on players about the importance of details and focus. He has zero intention of turning into a hypocrite.
“You know, I can’t sit and dwell and pity [myself], you know, because when it’s all said and done, I have a responsibility to the Kansas City Chiefs,” Bieniemy told me. “I have a responsibility to Coach [Andy] Reid. I have a responsibility to this entire offensive coaching staff and our players to make sure that we’re mentally and physically ready to go come gameday. That’s who I am, OK? And that’s how I operate.”
It’s appreciated in Kansas City, where Reid believes Bieniemy will continue to do a great job until he eventually lands his dream gig.
“Eric Bieniemy works his tail off and he is relentless in studying the game,” Reid said. “He’s relentless in studying what would be his plan as a head football coach — this guy doesn’t miss a beat. He was that way as a player and he’s that way as a coach, whether it was coaching the running backs or working the offense as a whole as a coordinator.
“So I don’t understand everything — I’m not an owner. I don’t sit in those meetings to interview head coaches. But I would just tell you that whoever gets him, whenever they get him, will be very, very lucky.”
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Originally published February 2, 2021, 8:40 PM