Commanders hire Eric Bieniemy as assistant head coach, offensive coordinator

  • February 19, 2023


After a weeks-long search for a new offensive play caller, the Washington Commanders hired longtime Kansas City Chiefs assistant Eric Bieniemy to be their assistant head coach and offensive coordinator.

Bieniemy, who spent the past five seasons as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator, became Washington’s top target after the firing of Scott Turner. Bieniemy arrived in the D.C. area Wednesday, after the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LVII parade, and over the course of three days met with Coach Ron Rivera, as well as the team’s assistant coaches, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

The move is significant for both sides.

In Washington, Bieniemy will have full control of an offense and the play-calling for the first time and will get the added title of assistant head coach, a promotion from his previous role. In Kansas City, he was in many respects the conduit between Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes — an integral part of game-day operations and game-planning but not the sole play caller in games.

Bieniemy’s arrival in Washington also could lead to a broad change in scheme. Under Turner for the past three seasons, the Commanders’ offense incorporated concepts of multiple systems but was rooted in the Air Coryell scheme, which is intended to stretch the field vertically with deep passing and a power running game.

Bieniemy, like many candidates the Commanders interviewed, comes from the West Coast system, having spent a decade alongside Reid. Reid’s play-calling is renowned for its innovation and a marriage of college and pro concepts, yet it is founded on basic ideologies. Among them: use the passing game, typically off shorter routes, to gain a lead and use the running game to wear out an opponent late.

“I’m looking for that quick passing game,” Rivera said in Phoenix last week. “… We want to get into the fourth quarter where you’ve got a 10-point lead or a nine-point lead and there’s 10 minutes left to go, and then you get the ball and you grind it down, you wear that clock out.”

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The offensive staff may undergo further change, too.

After the Commanders’ 8-8-1 season, Rivera fired Turner, and defensive backs coach Chris Harris left to be the defensive passing game coordinator and defensive backs coach for the Tennessee Titans. The rest of Washington’s staff remained intact, but Bieniemy’s recent meetings with the assistant coaches could be an indication he plans to make alterations and perhaps bring in some coaches with whom he has more familiarity.

The longer term holds even more uncertainty in Washington. The team is still searching for an answer at quarterback after cycling through eight starters over the past three years. Sam Howell, a fifth-round pick in 2022, enters the offseason as the projected starter, in part because he is the only quarterback known to be returning; the team probably will cut Carson Wentz, and Taylor Heinicke could land elsewhere in free agency.

Howell intrigued in his lone start in Week 18, flashing the mobility and quick passing Rivera hopes to rely on more in the future. The Commanders are expected to add a veteran to the quarterbacks room — but, barring a change of heart, not a high-priced one.

“We’ve got a stout running game, we’ve got playmakers in position, and we had a young man who showed us that he can spread the ball out and get it out quickly,” Rivera said. “What’s the risk of spending money on somebody and then all of a sudden it not working out again?

“Now, are we going to give up on trying to find the right veteran? Absolutely not. If we find the right veteran to come in and add that competition to that group of guys in that room, I think we’re going to see growth.”

Washington’s ownership situation is even more uncertain. Daniel and Tanya Snyder announced in November that they will “explore potential transactions” for the team, and at least two prospective buyers have toured the team’s facilities in recent weeks.

“I have two years left on my contract; are they going to give [me] those two years? That’s what everybody has asked,” Rivera said. “And I said, ‘Look, all I know is I’ve been told it’s business as usual.’ I mean, I get updates. I talk to ownership to let them know where I am. They’ve been nothing but supportive.”

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Before talking to Bieniemy, the Commanders interviewed former New York Giants coach Pat Shurmur, Washington quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, Miami Dolphins assistant head coach and running backs coach Eric Studesville, Los Angeles Rams assistant head coach and tight ends coach Thomas Brown, newly hired Titans quarterbacks coach Charles London, former Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn and former Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

The Commanders also requested to interview former Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who declined because he is seeking head-coaching opportunities. Dolphins quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Darrell Bevell also declined.

The all-time leading rusher at the University of Colorado, Bieniemy finished third in Heisman Trophy voting in 1990 and was drafted in the second round in 1991. He spent nine seasons in the NFL and closed his career in Philadelphia in 1999, with Reid as his coach.

Bieniemy was the running backs coach at Colorado and then UCLA before he jumped to the NFL in 2006 to join Brad Childress’s staff in Minnesota, first as running backs coach and then with the added title of assistant head coach. He spent 2011 and 2012 as Colorado’s offensive coordinator before reuniting with Reid in Kansas City in 2013.

Bieniemy has been the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator since 2018, when Mahomes threw for more than 5,000 yards and a league-high 50 touchdowns and was named league MVP and first-team all-pro. The Chiefs have won the AFC West and ranked in the top six in both points and yards each season since Bieniemy took over as coordinator.

Bieniemy’s name has regularly surfaced in hiring cycles as a head-coaching candidate. But to the surprise of many, he has yet to be offered the top coaching gig — despite a résumé that includes two Super Bowl rings.

“Eric Bieniemy has been tremendous for us, and I think he’s tremendous for the National Football League,” Reid said Monday. “I’m hoping he has an opportunity to go somewhere and do his thing, where he can run the show and be Eric Bieniemy.”

Eric Bieniemy is back at the Super Bowl and back in the NFL hiring cycle

Last offseason, Bieniemy interviewed for the New Orleans Saints’ head-coaching job. This year, he interviewed for the Indianapolis Colts’ opening, but the team went with Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen.

“To listen to people’s reasoning, saying it’s because he’s under Andy’s shadow, I think is unfair,” Rivera said. “I mean, you have to be willing to give the guy the opportunity.”

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