It would be easy for Eric Bieniemy to be down or frustrated about being passed over for head coaching jobs.
It might seem natural to rail against the flawed process – which almost seems rigged for certain candidates each year – and get caught up in the hypocrisy of it all. It would be easy to spend time thinking about the what-ifs and could-have-beens from several years of making the rounds on interviews – with equal or better qualifications than many of the men getting these jobs and let that siphon off one's energy and consume one's mind.
Bieniemy, the Chiefs' distinguished and decorated offensive coordinator, however, is doing none of the above.
Many a column has been written about the NFL's hiring processes for coaches and general managers, which continue to lead to one outcome – those of color largely on the outside despite the game's locker rooms being composed largely of Black players. This continues to be a situation where there is much talk focused on the problem, and various ways and means adopted to try to address it, but, largely, nothing changes when it comes to true diversity among NFL decision makers.
No one to this point has forced owners to hire people of color for these important and coveted positions, and by and large they have continued to hire those who look like they do, with backgrounds more similar to theirs. It shouldn't come to that, and this is something that should have changed for the better decades ago, yet here we are. Bieniemy has become one of the men most synonymous with this struggle – unfairly, frankly, but not surprisingly – as he has been left without an offer while so many other of Andy Reid's top lieutenants over the years have been scooped up despite them lacking the breadth of Bieniemy's playing or coaching experience. Yet he remains positive about the process, and what is to come.
"At the end of the day like I always tell folks, I don't allow anything to dictate my outcome or my future," Bieniemy told me recently on Inside Access, the afternoon drive show I cohost on 1057 The Fan in Baltimore. "So the only thing we can do, alright, is to continue going back to work and to continue chopping wood. And when it's all said and done we all are blessed to be placed in the situations that we are in because -- first and foremost -- we do have a job.
"I am blessed and fortunate to be working with a Hall of Fame head coach. On top of that, the quarterback (Patrick Mahomes) ain't bad, either. And we've had a great deal of success since we've been here. So I'm not complaining at all. Would I like to be a head coach? Yes I would. But you know what, it's going to happen, at the right place, with the right people, at the right time."
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Last week Bieniemy took part in the NFL's inaugural Ozzie Newsome GM Forum, which leads into the annual QB Summit, where NFL VP of Football Operations Troy Vincent spearheads the effort to get the brightest diverse minds in football at all levels in front of the NFL's movers and shakers. This year, there were far more owners and general managers and actual decision makers taking part in the events and interacting with these candidates, Bieniemy included, and these men remain hopeful that real change is coming and real representation is on the horizon. Members of the Giants, Falcons, and Bears ownership groups were among those taking part in the events last week.
"We've had a variety of people who have joined in," Bieniemy said, "and obviously we would love to have all 32 owners to be a part of it. But right now we're going to take exactly what we can get, and that interaction is important, because now you actually have a seat at the table and you have that opportunity to interact with an owner who is doing the hiring. That way they feel more comfortable with the people and getting to know more about the people they are hearing about through the media."
One cannot help but wonder if 2022 will be his year. The Chiefs remain Super Bowl favorites for very good reason. Reid remains at the top of his game, as does Bieniemy. Prominent players were actively campaigning for Bieniemy last year based on what Mahomes had told them about his coaching acumen, there is going to be ample turnover, again, and this team will be on national TV and in the headlines quite a bit. There is good reason for Bieniemy to remain upbeat about something out of his hands, beyond continuing to call a great game and help that offense put up historically significant numbers.
His mindset and mentality could not be any better. And one hopes those who pull the strings and make these decisions do so in a more inclusionary manner come January. It won't get Bieniemy down, either way, but it's beyond time for things to change for the better.
"Here is the thing," Bieniemy said, "because of the success that we've had, I don't have time to get frustrated. Because I have to get up and go to work the next day (during the playoffs, when coaches are hired). We do this for a reason – we coach football to be the very best that we can. And for the past few years I have been through the interviewing cycle, and it hasn't gone my way. But I have had something that can occupy my time through that whole entire process – I had to get up and go to work the next day to make sure that we are continuing to pursue our dream of winning a Super Bowl.
"So, yes, you get a little disappointed and yes, ideally you want to get that opportunity to say, 'I'm a head coach.' But if it doesn't happen I can't allow that to dictate anything else, because when it's all said and done I have to be at my best so the players can be at their best. So when it's all said and done I don't have time to waste on emotions that I cannot control based on an opinion that's been formulated."
Eventually, perhaps all coaches won't be allowed to be hired until after the Super Bowl. Surely, there is more work to be done with how the hires are made. It is less than efficient and screaming for change in more ways than one, with Bieniemy's exclusion to this point just one of the many puzzling aspects of it all.