Analysis Around the League Opinion

Eric Bieniemy & what is wrong with the Rooney Rule

The Kansas City Chiefs finished the 2019 regular season ranked in the top five in total points scored and points scored per game. It is the second year in a row that they have done this, ranking first in both categories last season. Since Andy Reid took over as the Head Coach in 2013, he never had a top-five scoring offense until the 2018 season. Obviously, this has a lot to do with Patrick Mahomes. When Mahomes took over, the offense became this high-flying circus act that nobody could believe and no defense could stop. But it wasn’t just Patrick Mahomes. Some of it was Andy Reid’s playcalling mixed with Mahomes’ skillset. A lot of it, however, was Eric Bieniemy, the Chiefs Offensive Coordinator for the past two seasons.

Andy Reid has always applauded Bieniemy for his assistance with the Chiefs’ offense and how he has assisted in the development of their franchise quarterback.

“You guys know how I feel about Eric,” Reid told reporters after Bieniemy had been requested for head coaching interviews. “I think he would be tremendous. I don’t know the team, but there is a team out there that could really use him. Being the leader of men that he is, you’re not going to find people better than that in that category. He’s a sharp offensive mind on top of that.”

Before he was an Offensive Coordinator, Beiniemy was the team’s Running Back Coach. Under that title, he mentored Jamaal Charles until the end of his franchise record-breaking career with the Chiefs. He also coached little-known rookie Kareem Hunt to 1,327 yards, 11 touchdowns, and the 2017 Rushing Crown. Plus last season, after losing Hunt to an unfortunate suspension that eventually led to his release from the team, Bieniemy helped groom backup Damian Williams to fill in without missing a beat.

So it would be inevitable that Eric Bieniemy would move on to a head coaching position, right? Wrong. Bieniemy was lined up for several interviews but each team decided on another candidate. And to be frank, a white candidate. It would appear that the reason Bieniemy was so quick to land these interviews would be to satisfy the Rooney Rule.

The Rooney Rule, which is named after late Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, was established in 2003 with the overall purpose to give minority coaches, especially African Americans, better opportunities for head coaching positions. It made it a requirement for teams to interview minorities when there was a head coach or senior operations vacancy. The rule itself is a great one and it’s intent is exactly what was needed for the league: a broader range of NFL head coaches. No matter what your race or ethnicity, if a person can coach then they should be given that opportunity.

So then, why is someone like Eric Bieniemy struggling to get that opportunity? It is because the rule only gets him the interview. It doesn’t change the mindset of General Managers and Owners. They stick to the buddy system and retread coaches because it’s safer. They would rather kick the tires on Mike McCarthy or give the job to an unproven college coach, than a proven offensive mind whose players would rally behind like Bieniemy. And it isn’t just owners and general managers using this system. Once a head coach is appointed, he usually brings in guys that he’s comfortable with. The Rooney Rule should apply to coordinators and staff positions as well.

Eric Bieniemy and Byron Leftwich are the only two black offensive coordinators. There are 10 black defensive coordinators, but with the league being more offensively motivated over the last several years, teams lean more towards an offensive-minded coach. Of the head coaches hired in the last decade, almost 40% of them were former offensive coordinators. Since there are only two black offensive coordinators in the league, it would make it pretty hard to boost the percentage of black head coaches.

Maybe it has to start at the top though. There are currently no black owners in the NFL. In fact, all but two are white. This trend also trickles down to the general manager position. There is only one black general manager, the Dolphins’ Chris Grier. Grier hired Brian Flores in the beginning of 2019, the franchises first minority head coach and one of only three black head coaches currently employed by the NFL. The general manager position appears to be getting less diverse even with the Rooney Rule in place. Since 2016, the number of black GMs went from seven to only Grier now. That could be a reason why that trend is also occurring with head coaches.

NFL Media writer Jim Trotter tweeted, “For the late-arriving crowd: The lack of black head coaches in the NFL is not a league issue, it’s an ownership issue. Owners are master contortionists when coming up with reasons why we aren’t ‘qualified’ or ‘ready’. 32 teams: 1 black GM, 3 black coaches.”

Trotter went on to tweet, “Received this text from an NFL assistant coach who happens to be black: ‘NFL has finally shown it’s not the place for black men to advance. It’s ridiculous, it’s disgusting. We can sell tickets and make plays, but we can’t lead.’”

These type of comments from media members and current coaches are beginning to give the NFL a black eye and it will only get worse until owners step forward to try to right this injustice. As for Eric Bieniemy, I would selfishly be ecstatic to see him stay with the Chiefs. He’s a great leader and the players love playing for him. If you have a coach that the players love, they’ll work even harder to make sure they don’t let him down. And the Chiefs offense certainly hasn’t let anyone down.

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