ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Eric Bieniemy knew he was almost certainly leaving the Kansas City Chiefs before they won a second Super Bowl in four years.
After interviewing 16 times for 15 different NFL head coaching jobs in past years, he also knew this time he probably was not getting another look to run a team. So, the longtime successful Chiefs offensive coordinator kept an eye out for his next challenge.
That turned out to be joining the Washington Commanders as offensive coordinator and assistant head coach, a gig under Ron Rivera that should give Bieniemy the chance to show what he can do out of the shadow of Andy Reid and two-time MVP Patrick Mahomes.
Bieniemy is ready — “fired up,” as he said multiple times at his introductory news conference Thursday — to make Washington’s offense his own, call plays and shut out all the noise about why he isn’t an NFL coach in his own right.
“Being a head coach right now, it hasn’t happened,” Bieniemy said. “It’s not anything that’s going to impact me moving forward because the only thing I need to be concerned with is what’s important today. Today I got to be the best person that I can be. I got to be the best coach that I can be.”
Bieniemy, who turns 54 during training camp in August, became the best candidate out of more than a half-dozen interviews after Rivera went through the first week of interviews wanting to find someone quickly and started watching the playoffs instead. He saw what the Chiefs could do on offense and envisioned some of those characteristics with the Commanders, who relied on a stout defense to get to 8-8-1 last season.
“We’ve got our guy,” Rivera said proudly in introducing Bieniemy. “We really, truly feel we found the right guy. We found the guy that we believe can step up and be the guy that we’re looking for.”
Rivera also found a coach he was fortunate to scoop up as an assistant after Bieniemy was previously interviewed to coach the Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles — and the New York Jets twice.
As has been well publicized, Bieniemy did not get any of those jobs. But Rivera sees a little of his path in his new play-caller after being a linebacker-turned defensive coordinator under a defensive coach, who had to go work for someone on the other side of the ball to get a head job.
“I interviewed eight, nine times before I got my opportunity. And I know it’s the same thing for him: Eventually he’s going to get that opportunity,” Rivera said, also citing Sean McDermott’s path from a coordinator under Reid to coach of the Buffalo Bills.
“Maybe this’ll be a good thing for Eric, which I’m hoping. We’re going to live in the now, and that’s about winning football games.”
Bieniemy, who was running the Chiefs’ offense during their run of five consecutive AFC championship game appearances with three trips to the Super Bowl, said he was only worried about two letters of the alphabet: “a W or an L.”
There have been far more losses than wins for Washington over the past couple of decades compared to Kansas City, and yet he was still ready to leave in what could be the middle of a modern day dynasty.
“One thing in this profession you learn is comfort is the enemy of progress,” Bieniemy said. “I don’t like being comfortable, so I’m about accepting challenges and moving forward. This presents a challenge to me.”
Bieniemy inherits an offense that ranked 20th in the league last season and a second-year quarterback in Sam Howell, who has one game of pro experience and trails Mahomes by 228 NFL touchdown passes.
“I’m just super excited to have (Bieniemy) here,” said Howell, the 2022 fifth-round pick out of North Carolina who goes into offseason workouts as the starter. “Obviously he came from an organization with Patrick Mahomes, so they had a lot of success together. Hopefully we can kind of bring some of that over here.”
Asked why he chose this job, Bieniemy said, “Why not Washington?” and pointed to the talent already in place in offense. That starts with top wide receiver Terry McLaurin, who’s signed long term and will be working under his third different play-caller since entering the league in 2019.
McLaurin said Bieniemy “brings a championship-caliber” approach to Washington, which has not won the Super Bowl since the glory days of Joe Gibbs and Co. in the 1980s and early ’90s.
Fresh off celebrating his second Super Bowl victory, Bieniemy did not wear his first championship ring to the team facility Thursday.
The several players from Howell and McLaurin and beyond already know that, and Bieniemy hopes to show it to them starting next season, yet another as an assistant with coaching his own team a worry for down the line.
“I have to be accountable to these men, so all that stuff about being a head coach, we could talk about that next year some time,” he said. “Right now, I’m focused on the job at hand.”
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