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Head coach outlook bleak for Bieniemy despite wealth of experience, raising questions about hiring practices



Despite interviewing for five vacancies, and having a request from the Texans to speak to them about their opening, the prospects of Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy becoming a head coach in 2021 appear bleak, according to league sources. Many of the spots where Bieniemy made a strong impression have already wrapped up their hires, and others are nearing a decision soon while Bieniemy is still coaching in the postseason.

Bieniemy interviewed with the Falcons, Lions, Jets, Chargers and Jaguars during the window in which coaches with teams on the playoff bye were allowed to speak with other teams. The Texans did not reach out to him then, but did submit a request to interview Bieniemy last week only after it became public that quarterback Deshaun Watson was upset with the process after urging ownership to consider Bieniemy for the job back when Bill O’Brien was fired. It is doubtful that interview even takes place, sources said, as the Texans interview more candidates Sunday while Bieniemy coaches the Chiefs — he cannot conduct second interviews with teams until his season ends, or the bye before the Super Bowl.

Bieniemy’s situation has not gone unnoticed within the coach, agent and player community, with many dumbfounded as to why Andy Reid’s top assistant cannot get the opportunity to be a head coach as so many with less experience as a coach and a player continue to be hired. League sources said the NFLPA is considering approaching the NFL about issues with diversity in the head coaching ranks — should this cycle end up with very few coaches of color getting hired — and the push to further reform the Rooney Rule will not subside, either.

Brian Levy — agent to Bieniemy and a multitude of other top African American coaches including Mike Tomlin — expressed frustration about how this hiring cycle has unfolded thus far. Levy is skeptical that the league will truly achieve more representative diversity numbers in coaching without further changes and adaptations to the process. Levy and other agents have also long called for the tampering rules within the hiring process to be altered, with coaches on winning playoff teams — regardless of race — penalized by the current rules by limiting and delaying availability. Rod Graves, head of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which works with the NFL on issues of diversity, recently told me he supports pushing the entire hiring cycle back to after the Super Bowl to level the playing field for all coaches.

“Every team making a coach or GM hire should be assigned a diversity officer by the league,” Levy said. “The league should oversee those individuals and they should be involved with the entire process and every interview to ensure diversity is truly being served. Let the league and the teams split the costs. Whatever it takes. Something has to be done to change the way these owners are thinking and the way these hires are made. Otherwise, you are going to get the same results and right now, I can tell you, nothing is changing (for the better).”

The NFL expanded the scope of the Rooney Rule in 2020 to apply to more jobs, to encourage the interviewing of more diverse candidates and to reward teams who have developed coaches or executives of color who get top jobs elsewhere. However, Levy believes owners will not truly embrace diversity until the NFL takes the opposite approach.

Levy said the feedback he received from teams about Bieniemy was overwhelmingly positive and that his performance in the interviews earned high marks. Bieniemy, who received strong consideration for multiple jobs last year as well, prepared diligently with Levy doing mock interviews with former NFL executives and others, while Reid has continued to champion the former NFL running back for all head coaching jobs, serving as his strongest advocate.

But as of now, barring an unforeseen change of fortune, it looks very much like Bieniemy will be back with the Chiefs in 2021. And the movement to address the lack of diversity in the coaching ranks is very much ongoing.

“The numbers clearly reflect a broken and incongruous system for Black coaches,” Levy said. “Their paths are being blocked and/or detoured by a process that wreaks of nepotism and weak organizational infrastructures. There must be a clear plan put in place to ensure better opportunities, development and education for minority coaches and management.”

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