Eric Bieniemy NFL Coaching Profile: A Murky Past Could Hide a Bright Future

Eric Bieniemy is an on-paper lock to be a top-tier head coach candidate, but something has held him back these past few years, and it could be his past.

Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, is an on-paper lock to be a top-tier head coach candidate. He’s been the offensive coordinator for the league’s most exciting offense for five years, ranking first in points scored twice, finishing in the top five four times, and always finishing in the top 10. Over the full five-year span, no one has scored more than the Chiefs.

And yet, Bieniemy, once considered a hot candidate to be a head coach, isn’t generally considered a top head coaching candidate these days. After receiving first-round interviews with 10 of the 12 open jobs in 2020 and 2021, Bieniemy only received one interview in 2022 – the Denver Broncos.

Eric Bieniemy Was a Gifted but Troubled Player

Bieniemy was an All-American running back for the national championship Colorado Buffaloes, rushing for 1,628 yards and 17 touchdowns in 1990 — third in the country in both categories. Bieniemy supplemented his rushing with some capable receiving and finished first in the FBS in yards from scrimmage.

He finished third in Heisman voting behind BYU’s Ty Detmer and Notre Dame’s Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. As a result of his play, Bieniemy was the only active player selected to Colorado’s All-Century Team.

That was enough for the San Diego Chargers to select him early in the second round in 1991, the third RB selected in the draft. Bieniemy ended up buried on the depth chart behind Pro Bowler Marion Butts and two backups for most of his career in San Diego but was able to sign a contract in free agency with the Cincinnati Bengals, working as part of an RB committee.

After a few years there and one year with the Philadelphia Eagles, Bieniemy retired from playing football to coach at his alma mater, where he finished his degree while coaching running backs for the Buffaloes.

His time as a player was fraught with a number of legal incidents, including a bar fight as a college player allegedly instigated when someone called him a racial slur. He has also had a number of driving violations, ranging from relatively minor — driving a defective vehicle — to somewhat typical, like speeding, to an alarming DUI in 2001.

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The most concerning set of allegations against Bieniemy surrounds a harassment allegation from a parking attendant, who alleges that he put his hands on her neck and startled her. While the alleged victim described the incident as “not painful,” she did describe it as startling. A member of Bieniemy’s party, after Bieniemy had left, was also accused of assaulting a different attendant who asked what was going on.

Bieniemy was also accused of interfering with a firefighter attempting to put out a fire in his mother’s garage. He allegedly shoved the firefighter while he was engaged in his duties to put out the fire.

These might be part of the reason why Bieniemy has not received many opportunities after initial interviews and seems capped as an offensive coordinator. The only arrest that occurred while he was a coach was the final one, for driving under the influence back in 2001 while with the Buffaloes as a running backs coach.

Bieniemy Was at the Center of a Coaching Scandal

Another reason why Bieniemy may not get past Round 1 of interviews could surround the scandal that struck Colorado while he was their RBs coach. Though the news of the scandal didn’t hit until he was a few years into his next stop — at UCLA as both a running backs coach and recruiting coordinator — the incidents described overlap with his time there.

Several recruits and Colorado football players attended parties where women were allegedly sexually assaulted, though most of the specific charges were dropped by the prosecution in favor of a broader one for “creating a hostile environment for women,” alleging that recruits were promised sex at the party.

More concretely, the Boulder District Attorney accused the University of using illegal drugs, prostitution, and providing alcohol to minors in their recruitment efforts. It is unclear whether Bieniemy had a role or knowledge in any of this, but he was heavily involved in the overall recruiting process, a reason he was given the title of recruiting coordinator at UCLA along with his position as running backs coach.

Bieniemy was never named as responsible for any of the problems that erupted at Colorado while he was there, and that may have been a reason he was a quick riser as a coaching assistant. Just three years after he joined UCLA, he was invited onto the Vikings coaching staff as RBs coach, giving him an opportunity to coach the rookie Adrian Peterson through the 2010 season.

Peterson made the Pro Bowl all four years Bieniemy was there and earned first-team All-Pro recognition twice. In 2010, Bieniemy was named assistant head coach in addition to his responsibility as a running backs coach.

He then returned to Colorado once more to become their offensive coordinator in December 2010. During Bieniemy’s time there under head coach John Embree, Colorado struggled in every way, winning just four games total over those two seasons.

The offense Bieniemy coordinated scored more points per game before his arrival (24.2 per game in 2010) and after he left (23.5 per game in 2013) than at any time during his tenure, when they managed marks of 19.8 and 17.8 points per game, respectively, in his two seasons there.

Nevertheless, Andy Reid tapped Bieniemy to be his running backs coach when putting together his first staff at Kansas City in 2013. There, Bieniemy helped RB Jamaal Charles earn first-team All-Pro recognition for the second time in his career, earning two of four career Pro Bowl appearances under him.

After Doug Pederson, then Matt Nagy, were offered head coaching jobs, Bieniemy ascended to the role of offensive coordinator. Like Pederson and Nagy, Bieniemy doesn’t call plays on game days but is otherwise heavily involved in offensive game planning and working with quarterback Patrick Mahomes throughout the week.

Repeatedly, Mahomes and Reid emphasize the importance Bieniemy plays in their offense and in Mahomes’ development.

Aside from Nagy and Pederson, non-play-callers like Kevin O’Connell, Zac Taylor, Nathaniel Hackett, Mike McDaniel, and Nick Sirianni were hired to become head coaches to varying degrees of success.

Bieniemy has been open about his history, and it’s notable that in the 21 years since his DUI in 2001, there hasn’t been another incident. He told Jarrett Bell at USA Today that he doesn’t think anything in his past “has been an issue” but that he does believe it has helped him grow.

Bieniemy reportedly has had mixed success as an interviewer, and that could be a reason he hasn’t seen much in the way of success in seeking a head coaching job. He must be confident, however. When Colorado contacted him about their open head coaching job in 2020, he turned them down.

Bieniemy could be an intriguing candidate for a team looking for an explosive offense, especially if they want to stray away from the Shanahan/McVay tree.

Eric Bieniemy Expected To Make $4 Million

New head coaches often make similar amounts of money when they’re considered unproven, regardless of how many teams are interested in them. In Bieniemy’s case, he may have even less leverage than most coaches, given how long it’s taken for him to land a head coaching job.

For most NFL head coaches, that “unproven” salary is about $4 million. That can change by half a million in either direction, but it’s not a wide range. Bieniemy’s lack of leverage might lower that number, but it won’t be substantial.

After proving their worth, head coaches can increase that salary significantly, often seeing opportunities to double or triple their yearly totals after some successful seasons.

Teams That Could Target Bieniemy

Teams moving from a defensive head coach to an offensive one might be interested in Bieniemy, as could a team hoping to draft and develop a quarterback.

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Bieniemy’s history with running backs might also avail himself to teams willing to invest in the running game despite the direction of the modern NFL, though given his current status as the offensive coordinator of one of the most pass-happy teams in the league — albeit with its best quarterback — that might not be the best fit.

Arizona Cardinals

In the past, we’ve described Kyler Murray as a quarterback that looks like Mahomes if you squint hard enough. Who better to pair that up with than the person who coordinated the Mahomes offense over the past five years?

Murray plays a backyard style of football, and imposing structure on top of it could make it look more like the Chiefs’ offense, something that is better described as organized chaos rather than pure sandlot football. Finding that balance could do wonders for Murray, who has pieces around him to make that kind of offense sing.

Carolina Panthers

Steve Wilks has done an excellent job as the interim coach of the Carolina Panthers, especially in providing an environment that has allowed Sam Darnold to finally succeed. But if they decide that Wilks can’t be the long-term answer or find that Wilks would rather coach elsewhere, pairing Darnold and their third-round rookie Matt Corral with Bieniemy might be a good way to get that offense going, especially as they find and develop receivers to put around the quarterbacks.

On top of that, Bieniemy has built relationships across the coaching landscape and should be able to land a good group of assistants to help support the team.

Indianapolis Colts

As the season goes on, it seems less and less likely that Jeff Saturday makes sense for the team. The Colts look increasingly dispirited, out of sync, and unprepared. Their strategy of finding the next veteran QB has failed, and they need a bit more.

Bringing in someone who has experience working with elite running backs like Jonathan Taylor and has spent significant time coaching up Mahomes could do wonders for the next quarterback that comes into the building, likely a draft pick.

Houston Texans

If the Texans move on from Lovie Smith, they might want someone who can develop their next quarterback, someone they should be able to pick at the top of next year’s draft. Given their talent problems, Houston would be smart to find someone who can create unique opportunities on offense, especially with someone like RB Dameon Pierce there to help out.

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