Is Eric Bieniemy held to an unrealistic standard?

Eric Bieniemy

Eric Bieniemy
Photography: Getty Images

Eric Bieniemy’s circuitous route to the throne of an NFL head coach has taken him through at least 16 interviews, and counting. The coaching game of musical chairs is once again coming to an end, and Bieniemy’s only coaching interview during this cycle was with the Indianapolis Colts. Aside from Colts owner Jim Irsay going all out and making things awkward by openly patting himself on the back for talking to Bieniemy, things have been quiet at work.

Reports from the NFL Network Ian Rapaport show Bieniemy’s only other interview prospects would involve lateral moves to open offensive coordinator positions. The Washington Commanders, Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens have reportedly reached out to Biemiemy, presumably with the promise of giving him the offensive reins.

An oft-cited response to Bieniemy’s ascension to the head coaching job is the belief that Andy Reid’s play-calling is a crutch that masks his competence. Reid’s reputation as the NFL’s premier offensive lineman has been burned for two decades, but that factor being used against one of his linebackers at offensive line is a trend that started with Bieniemy.

Andy Reid’s coaching pipeline

Reid has called his own plays for decades, but his coaching tree has produced a series of branches ranging from Doug Pederson to Brad Childress, Pat Shurmur, Matt Nagy and John Harbaugh. Each of these individuals has two things in common. They are white, and none of them were the only players under Andy Reid before they were hired from his staff to become head coaches. Harbaugh was the special teams coordinator. Not surprisingly, the first minority on the offensive end of Reid’s coaching tree is under a harsher level of scrutiny. Somehow, pedigree doesn’t matter anymore.

And yet, even Reid dispelling false rumors about Bieniemy ghosting the Chiefs’ whip wasn’t enough to convince general managers that he deserved a job as a boss somewhere.

NFL franchises scrutinizing Bieniemy’s success more closely than coaches who have accomplished less than him is indicative of social trends. Data on the racial gap in employment opportunities from National Bureau of Economic Research shows that reality. Their 2015 study found that black workers receive extra scrutiny from their bosses, which can lead to poorer performance reviews, lower pay and even job loss.

Black offensive coordinators they rarely deserve the label of genius or promotions attached to that hype. Bieniemy’s lighter-skinned offensive peers typically had much quicker paths to the top of the NFL organizational hierarchy.

An examination of Sean McVay’s coaching tree also includes several head coaches whose coaching prospects were not affected by McVay’s primary player duties. Kevin O’Connell made a brief call to play in Washington during the 2019 season under interim coach Bill Callahan. That Redskins offense finished that season ranked last in passing, scoring, 31st in total offense, but they were slightly better in running the ball where they ranked 23rd. Black coaches could rarely come back from such a disaster. Look no further than the Rams assistant Raheem Morris who is still waiting for his second chance. More, O’Connell’s play calls inexperience never mind the Minnesota Vikings.

If we run held to Zac Taylor’s standard, he would be the head coach after the Chiefs offense set the league on fire with rookie Patrick Mahomes. Taylor’s only playing experience before the Cincinnati Bengals put him in charge was in 2016 when he led the Cincinnati Bearcats’ disastrous offense during a 4-8 campaign that ended Tommy Tuberville’s coaching career. Conversely, after five AFC Championship appearances, NFL teams want Bieniemy to do it again.

Bieniemy’s coaching future

Which brings us back to Bieniemy’s future employment prospects. The move from Kansas City to the jalopy Washington Commanders under Sam Howell in Ron Rivera’s final season feels like self-immolation. The Titans can ride Derrick Henry until he breaks, but their long-term quarterback situation is not resolved. The Baltimore Ravens opener is a fascinating matchup. Lamar Jackson in Bienmy offense of moving before the snap, running the ball creatively and using the short passing game to stable tight ends or versatile runners to open up the offense is similar to what Kansas City has been doing for four years.

So what would happen if Bieniemy took the job of Titan or Commander and the attack failed due to circumstances beyond his control? Well, he would be Matt LaFleur, who left the Rams to take on a more prominent role in calling the attacking play. Lafleur’s only season as coordinator resulted in Tennessee boasting the 27th ranked offense in the NFL. After the season, LaFleur jumped the queue and was named head coach of the Packers thanks to his credentials as McVay’s assistant.

NFL teams know in advance what type of candidate they want to recruit. Black attacking assistants like Bieniemy rarely fit that archetype.

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