Column: Eric Bieniemy, Brandon Staley and the NFL’s continued coaching hire disgrace

Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy greets a player during last year's AFC championship game.
Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy wants to be an NFL head coach, but teams continue to give jobs to less qualified white coaches.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)
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It’s become a January tradition: Eric Bieniemy smiling for the cameras. A lot of that has to do with his role as the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Since being promoted from running backs coach in 2018, Bieniemy has spent the last three seasons watching his team score at will, go deep in the playoffs, even scoop up a championship trophy. What’s not to smile about, right?

Except the other reason he is seen smiling this time of year is because he’s been passed over for a head coaching position again and in order not to show his disappointment to reporters asking the right questions, he must smile for all the wrong reasons. All these years later and yet — to paraphrase the great poet Paul Laurence Dunbar — many of us still must wear the mask.


“It’s always good to be mentioned and having the opportunity to fulfill your dreams,” he said Thursday during a virtual scrum. “Yes, I do want to be a head coach, but when it’s all said and done, my job is to make sure I’m not taking away from the goals we’re trying to accomplish.”

I was going to write this column with humor. Then I experimented with a historical bent. I considered a quote from James Baldwin, a song lyric from Sam Cooke … but at the end of the day I decided to honor the anger. The justifiable anger. My anger.

This isn’t just about the plight of Bieniemy. This is about the NFL thinking we’re stupid. Thinking we don’t see the game within the game.

The one where they pair country star Eric Church and R&B songbird Jazmine Sullivan to sing the national anthem together for some sort of “Ebony and Ivory” moment at the Super Bowl in hopes that we forget what the league said about peaceful protesting or that it hasn’t properly apologized to blackballed quarterback Colin Kaepernick; forget the Houston Texans rejected the two candidates of color the search firm they paid for recommended for the general manager job in favor of a white man the firm didn’t present; forget that qualified Black coaches have basically been shut out from head coaching positions.


Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

And poor Bieniemy has to sit there and smile for the cameras — again— while practically begging for a head coaching position despite his credentials.


He certainly has more chops than Dan “Bite Their Kneecap” Campbell whom the Detroit Lions hired despite an NFL resume with the words “interim” and “intern” but not coordinator. He’s more qualified than the Chargers’ new hire, Brandon Staley, who was the Rams’ defensive coordinator for one season before getting the call.

There were seven vacancies at the end of the regular season but only one remains. There are four Black coordinators in the conference finals this weekend and not one of them appears a lock to become a head coach this time around.

But then again, why are Black coaches being required to re-create a scene from “The Hunger Games” when Urban Meyer got a top job with zero coaching experience on the professional level? Correction, the official professional level.

Rams head coach Sean McVay has a coaching tree full of young white males such as himself even as he’s still trying to fortify his own roots.

It’s insulting.

A disgrace.

A case study in “do as it says on the back of the helmet not as I do in real life.”

Sean McVay has a coaching tree full of young white males such as himself even as he’s still trying to fortify his own roots.

The gall to print “it takes all of us” in light of the summer uprisings for racial justice, only to hire few if any of us in leadership positions is so offensive even Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson demanded out of Texas despite the possibility of losing his tax breaks.


I could see if this were a sport in which Black coaches lacked expertise — like curling. The lack of Black coaches in curling is not insulting because it is clear the pool of eligible candidates is fairly small. But this is football and we know damn well there are plenty of visionaries to pull from.

This conversation has nothing to do with the talent of Staley or Meyer. It’s not about Bieniemy, who wasn’t even interviewed by the Texans before Watson demanded out.

This is about the white men who make the final call. The ones who recognize their franchises depend on the bodies of Black men but are still unwilling to hand over the keys in terms of leadership. We saw it with the quarterback position decades earlier. We also saw it with team presidents.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley says he has been preparing for this job since he was a kid, always thinking about the day he and the NFL would meet.

Jan. 21, 2021

I guess we could pretend it’s all about fit or we can come to terms with the fact that maybe the league is just not into it.

The latter would certainly be a shocking admission. But then again, isn’t the NFL saying as much anyway?