Here we are — again. Days after the Kansas City Chiefs — powered by one of the most exciting and explosive offenses the NFL has ever seen — won their second Super Bowl in four seasons. Their offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy, missed out — again — on another head coaching cycle as white men with lesser resumes and accomplishments, and DeMeco Ryans, were hired to fill head coaching vacancies.
The fact that I even have to write this column, is infuriating at most, and exhausting at minimum.
On Tuesday, the Indianapolis Colts announced that Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen would be their new head coach. It meant that every head coaching vacancy was filled by a white coach sans Ryans and the Houston Texans — a franchise that has fired its last two Black coaches after only one season on the job.
I’ve lost count of how many times Bieniemy has been interviewed for a head coaching position over the years, as the answer has to be nearing 20. The Bucs, Dolphins, Bengals, Browns, Giants, Panthers, Jaguars, Chargers, Falcons, Lions, Texans, Colts, Saints, and Jets (twice) have all said, “thanks, but no thanks.” And whenever he’s asked about it, Bieniemy often takes the high road.
“I’ll just say this: Anybody who works in any organization or any job, they want to be rewarded for the right reasons,” Bieniemy told USA TODAY’s Jarrett Bell in 2020:
“When somebody wants to hire me, that will be the best job that has found me and that will be the best job that I have found. Because we connected. So, when it comes to hiring, I can’t control what goes on in the owner’s head. I can’t force them to make the decision. My job is to make sure that when I’m in there giving that interview, I’m being my most authentic self. They get to see me, feel me for who I am and what I’m about. ...
“But on top of that, if they don’t see all the things that will help them grow as an organization, that’s okay. Because guess what? I have an opportunity here to work with a Hall of Fame head coach [in Andy Reid], we’ve got some great people here who happen to be great football players and we’ve had a great deal of success. I enjoy what I do.”
Those are the words of a Black man who understands how the world works. We’re told to keep our heads down, do our jobs, and never complain, even when we should. Because when you’re Black in this country, getting upset about the way you’ve been treated will quickly get you labeled “angry.” That’s why Bieniemy’s quote embodies Michelle Obama’s “when they go low, we go high.” But always being the bigger person is strenuous activity, especially when the evidence is on your side. A 2019 report from ESPN revealed that minority coaches led winning teams more often than white coaches, while also landing on the hot seat more often than their white counterparts.
“Eric Bieniemy has been tremendous for us, and I think he’s tremendous for the National Football League,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said after the Super Bowl. “I’m hoping he has an opportunity to go somewhere and do his thing, where he can run the show and be Eric Bieniemy.”
Watching everybody else get a chance at something you’ve proven you deserve would infuriate even the most passive person. Unfortunately, it’s an experience Black people endure daily. Bieniemy being passed over is just one end of the spectrum that Black coaches deal with in the NFL.
From every viewpoint, it’s easy to see that the system is rigged, unfair, and discriminating. At this point, I’m beyond wondering what would happen if Bieniemy decided that he’d reached his breaking point and unapologetically opened up about his experiences.
He’s got nothing to lose. He might as well vent his frustrations.
“Well, when you’re playing in the Super Bowl, it’s an outstanding feeling,” Bienemy recently said before the Super Bowl, via ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss. “So, that’s the only feeling that I know. And, you got to understand, I interviewed this year with the Indianapolis Colts. Last year, I interviewed with the Saints after the AFC championship game. And so it’s unfortunate that things haven’t quite worked its way out, but think about this: I’m going to my third Super Bowl in the past four years. Who wouldn’t want that?”
What Eric Bieniemy keeps missing is that while this magical run he’s been on would make any offensive coordinator jealous, the envious ones are getting chances to run their own teams while he’s still a co-pilot. And at some point, all those training hours won’t mean a thing unless he gets to fly his own plane. So, he might as well demand it.