KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On the surface, it’s a curious move.
Eric Bieniemy is leaving the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs — a franchise with two NFL titles and three conference titles in the last four seasons, a franchise that has won the AFC West and hosted the AFC Championship Game in all five of his seasons as offensive coordinator, a franchise led by a two-time MVP and veritable unicorn in quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
The Washington Commanders reportedly are finalizing a multi-year deal to lure away Bieniemy as the club’s new assistant head coach and offensive coordinator.
The Chiefs reportedly wanted him back, but he's moving on.
The #Commanders and Eric Bieniemy agreed to terms on a multiyear deal as their assistant head coach/offensive coordinator, his agent Jason Fletcher tells me.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) February 17, 2023
KC wanted him back. But Bieniemy got an upgraded title, a chance to build his staff and a big commitment. pic.twitter.com/7FRR3a6qRW
The move to join the staff of another former Andy Reid assistant, Ron Rivera, becomes less surprising when considering Bieniemy’s ambition and the reality of the last five NFL coaching cycles.
After interviewing at least 15 times in the previous four coaching cycles, Bieniemy only interviewed for one of the five NFL head coach vacancies — Indianapolis — during the 2023 hiring cycle.
“I haven’t gotten it for whatever reason,” Bieniemy said last offseason. “It doesn't matter. I’m going to keep knocking on that damn door and I’m going to keep working my ass off to make sure that it happens.”
NFL teams consistently passing on Bieniemy puzzled some. Still, the writing seemed to be on the wall that he may need to prove himself outside of Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s Hall of Fame shadow as an offensive architect and play-caller and without Mahomes at QB.
That notion began to crystallize after he interviewed with six teams — and a seventh, Philadelphia, requested an interview — but he didn’t get hired as an NFL coach during the hiring cycle two years ago.
When Denver and New Orleans also passed on Bieniemy after interviews a year ago, it became clear he may have to leave Kansas City to realize his dream of becoming an NFL head coach.
“It is tough, but I don’t let that keep me from doing what I do,” Bieniemy said during organized team activities last June. “I’m still alive, I’m breathing, and I have an opportunity to work with a championship team. That’s the beauty of it.”
Bieniemy returned for a fifth season as offensive coordinator despite rumors of a fractured relationship with Mahomes and Reid, which he termed “fabricated.”
Reid has been among Bieniemy’s biggest advocates — publicly and repeatedly — in his push to land a head-coaching job.
“Eric Bieniemy has been tremendous for us and I think he’s tremendous for the National Football League,” Reid said. “I’m hoping he has an opportunity to go somewhere and do his thing, where he can run the show and be Eric Bieniemy.”
Kansas City has never finished worse than sixth in total offense or scoring offense during Bieniemy’s tenure as offensive coordinator, often leading the league in one or both categories.
Three of Reid’s previous four offensive coordinators — Brad Childress from his Philly days, then Doug Pederson and Matt Nagy with the Chiefs — had been hired as head coaches off his staff by other NFL teams.
The lone exception before Bieniemy was Marty Mornhinweg, who served as Detroit’s head coach before joining Reid’s Eagles staff.
But Bieniemy’s ascendance to the coordinator role coincided with Mahomes taking the NFL by storm in 2018. His tenure also has been dogged by questions about who called plays and designed the Chiefs’ offense despite Reid’s insistence that it’s a collaborative process that includes Bieniemy.
#Chiefs Andy Reid: "People say [Bieniemy] doesn't call the plays...he does. He literally calls the plays in there..." pic.twitter.com/bIc6J8V1s2— Aaron Ladd (@aaronladd0) January 24, 2022
Perhaps an interim stop in the nation’s capital — which is turning over the keys of an offense that finished 20th in total yards and 24th in scoring to Sam Howell next season — will do the trick.
During the 2023 hiring cycle, the Colts settled on a Super Bowl LVII offensive coordinator, but it was Philadelphia’s Shane Steichen, a 37-year-old longtime Chargers assistant, over Bieniemy.
Three of the other four teams had previously interviewed Bieniemy, but were not linked to interest during this hiring cycle.
Carolina interviewed Bieniemy, but hired Matt Rhule in 2020. He was fired five games into the 2022 season and the Panthers didn’t interview Bieniemy this time around before anointing former Colts coach Frank Reich.
Houston interviewed Bieniemy in 2021 before hiring another former Reid assistant, David Culley, who was fired after going 4-13 in his only season with the Texans.
Culley’s replacement, Lovie Smith, also lasted only one season before being fired after a 3-13-1 campaign.
Houston hired DeMeco Ryans — a former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowler in six seasons with the franchise — after a successful stint as a defensive assistant in San Francisco, where he’s served as defensive coordinator the last two seasons.
Denver interviewed Bieniemy last year before hiring Nathaniel Hackett, a Blue Valley Northwest graduate and the son of former Chiefs offensive coordinator Paul Hackett. He was fired in December, with the Broncos sitting at a disappointing 4-11.
Hackett, who has since joined the New York Jets as offensive coordinator, is only the fifth NFL head coach not to finish their first NFL season, joining Atlanta’s Bobby Petrino (2007) and Jacksonville’s Urban Meyer (2021) as the only such coaches since 1978.
Arizona tried interviewing Bieniemy in 2019 before hiring now-fired Kliff Kingsbury, but he declined the request.
Bieniemy had four other interviews lined up already and the Cardinals had fired Steve Wilks, another Black coach, after only one season.
Arizona apparently didn’t reach out to Bieniemy this hiring cycle before hiring former Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, whose unit couldn’t stop Bieniemy’s unit in the second half of a 38-35 loss Sunday in Super Bowl LVII.
It is anticipated that Bieniemy's predecessor, Nagy, will be the favorite to also be his replacement.
After going 34-31 with two playoff appearances in four seasons as Chicago's head coach, Nagy returned to Reid's staff last season as the quarterbacks coach under Bieniemy.