Beyond the Scoreboard: Rooney Rule Requires Attention


Eric Bienemy’s resume is unquestioned, but head coaching is yet to come. (Courtesy of Flickr)

In 2003, the National Football League implemented a new hiring policy requiring all 32 teams to interview at least one or more candidates of color when filling its open head coaching vacancies. The rule would later expand in 2009 to include general manager jobs and front office positions. At the time of its inception, there were three black full-time head coaches.

Coincidentally, that is the same number of black head coaches currently in the league today. Consider a capable and experienced candidate of color like Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy, who has yet to be given the opportunity to become a head coach. Why has the Rooney Rule been so ineffective? And what more can be done to give those of color a better chance at proving themselves in highly-regarded positions?

Through two games of this season’s NFL Playoffs, the Kansas City Chiefs offense has been nothing short of prolific. They are averaging 43 points in that span, and now have a date on Feb. 2 against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 54. While the majority of Kansas City’s success will be credited to head coach Andy Reid, and rightfully so, he has not been the only one dialing up the plays on offense.

On that side of the ball, Bienemy deserves his fair share of recognition for garnering Reid’s trust, earning him stretches of game time where he takes over as the primary play-caller. In his two seasons as the Chiefs offensive coordinator, the team ended with a top-five offense in both years. They were ranked first in his inaugural year and finished fifth this past season.

Bienemy has accumulated over 19 years of experience coaching and coordinating on the college and NFL levels. Ideally, he is the perfect coaching candidate to hand the proverbial “keys to the car” in leading a professional football team. Yet, teams like the Carolina Panthers and New York Giants decided to go with unproven commodities in Matt Rhule and Joe Judge, respectively.

Rhule, the former head coach at Baylor University, was able to turn that program back into a national top-10 team. He also did great things for Temple University before that. However, not all successful college coaches translate well when moving up to the NFL. Just ask Nick Saban and Chip Kelly, whose head coaching tenures ultimately left more to be desired.

As for Joe Judge, he goes into the Giants job as a former wide receiver and special teams coach for the New England Patriots. While he does have NFL-level experience, his years in New England pale in comparison to the near two decades of experience Bienemy brings to the table.

To complicate things further, one could argue that Bienemy should have been given a head coaching job now when looking at Andy Reid’s coaching tree. The previous two offensive coordinators, Doug Pederson and Matt Nagy, also spent time as secondary play-callers to Reid. Pederson would ultimately end up with the Philadelphia Eagles, winning the franchise’s first Super Bowl in 2018. Nagy went on to become head coach of the Chicago Bears, earning Coach of the Year honors that same year.

There is no doubt that the Chiefs offense has never been better under Bienemy than it was with either Pederson or Nagy. Playing devil’s advocate, there are critics who will downplay Bienemy’s success because of the emergence of quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the talent surrounding his offensive personnel like wide receiver Tyreke Hill or tight end Travis Kelce.

Bienemy can only work with the players that the franchise puts around him, and it would be very hard to argue that any other offensive coordinator in the NFL now could have this offense hitting on all cylinders better than Bienemy in the last two seasons.

Andy Reid has gone on the record to say, “If you’re asking me, ‘Is he ready to be a head coach?’ Yeah, he was ready last year. Nobody is in more control than him when he is in this game. He’s a leader of men.” Wide Receiver Sammy Watkins told Yahoo Sports recently, “Think he might be too valuable to let go.”

Bienemy’s resume and ringing endorsements from fellow coaches and players only further validate his worthiness to be one of 32 head coaches in the NFL. He may end up being one of the hottest head-coaching candidates two to three years from now if Kansas City wins multiple Lombardi Trophies, which is not out of the realm of possibility with the superfluous amount of talent assembled on offense.

The point is, Bienemy should not have to wait for all of those dominoes to drop in order to get his chance at a head coaching gig. Especially when teams are taking risks on candidates who are essentially neophytes to NFL coaching. If that is the case, then not taking a chance on Bienemy proves the flawed nature around the head coaching process.