The Washington Commanders know offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy can’t bring quarterback Patrick Mahomes with him. But they would be happy if Bieniemy could replicate some of the offensive success the two shared with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Washington hired Bieniemy on Friday. He leaves Kansas City after five seasons in the same role, but he will be the primary playcaller in Washington — something he did not do with the Chiefs.
He’s coming in to lead a unit that has struggled most of the past six years, failing to finish with an offense ranked in the top 15 in either points or yards during that time.
Not so coincidentally, Washington has made one postseason appearance during that time.
As Kansas City’s offensive coordinator the past five years, Bieniemy has coached in 14 playoff games. Meanwhile, Washington has played in 10 playoff games since winning the Super Bowl after the 1991 season.
If Bieniemy succeeds in his new role, the Commanders could add to that total in 2023.
What does this mean for Washington?
It means the team will change its offense from the system run by Scott Turner to the West Coast offense that Bieniemy has worked in the past 10 seasons with Chiefs coach Andy Reid, first as the running backs coach and then offensive coordinator in Kansas City. There’s a lot of crossover with offenses, so it’ll be as much about learning the terminology than anything else.
The other question will be which offensive coaches remain on the staff. Washington coach Ron Rivera wants to limit the changes as much as possible to ease the transition, particularly for quarterback Sam Howell. He’s coming off a rookie season in which he played in one game and attempted 19 passes.
“I’m not worried about his learning ability,” Rivera said. “Learning the offense that we had really put a lot on a young guy and he handled it very well from the beginning. I assume he’s not going to struggle. He’s also the kind of guy who can work with his teammates and help them develop and grow as well.” — John Keim
What does this mean for Kansas City?
The Chiefs have a succession plan in place and most likely it means Matt Nagy takes over as offensive coordinator. Nagy, the Chiefs quarterback coach last season, was their coordinator in 2016 and 2017 before he left to become head coach of the Chicago Bears. So the transition should be as close to seamless as reasonably possible for Mahomes and the offense, particularly because Reid will maintain his considerable presence. — Adam Teicher
Why would Bieniemy leave KC for a lateral move?
Reid’s shadow wasn’t an obstacle for Doug Pederson or Nagy, his first two offensive coordinators after joining the Chiefs. Each moved on from there to a head-coaching job, Pederson with the Philadelphia Eagles and Nagy with the Bears. But for some reason it seems to be an issue for Bieniemy in his pursuit of an NFL head coaching job. Perhaps getting away from Reid and Mahomes and being successful with the Commanders will make him a more attractive head-coaching candidate.
Even Reid seemed to suggest as much, saying on 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.” — Teicher
Will this increase Bieniemy chances of getting a head-coaching job?
If he has success, it has to increase his chances. Let’s put it this way: It certainly won’t hurt. And if he does well it removes one knock against him, that he wasn’t a full-time playcaller in Kansas City and the Chiefs’ offensive success stemmed from Reid and Mahomes.
He’s been in the running for other jobs, but the lack of playcalling was an obstacle. Now, he has that chance and will let his work speak for itself.
The difficult part for him is he might have one season to prove himself in that role. Rivera will enter what has to be considered a must-win season with a coordinator running his own show for the first time along with an inexperienced quarterback in Howell. It’s a combination that calls for patience as they transition. — Keim
Why did the Commanders choose Bieniemy?
He’s passionate and demanding, qualities that can help kick-start an offense that has not produced a top-15 ranking in points or yards since 2016. His style could help. Before Super Bowl LVII, Mahomes said, “Make sure you have an Eric Bieniemy in your life because he’ll make sure you’re ready to go.”
Bieniemy comes from a system that was highly productive. And Washington liked how the Chiefs used their skill talent, feeling their size and styles compared favorably to what the Commanders have in Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel. Washington liked how creatively the Chiefs maneuvered their talent to give them better opportunities.
Washington also liked his presence and how he presented his ideas during the interview, as well as how he planned to use the Commanders’ weapons. They also liked that he told them a team needs to be balanced to score points, but must finish games with the rushing attack.
It helped, too, that Bieniemy coached under Reid for so long. Rivera coached under Reid for five seasons in Philadelphia and the two remain friends. Rivera has often sought Reid’s advice and his recommendation would carry a lot of weight. — Keim
Who else was in the running for the job?
Washington interviewed seven other candidates: Pat Shurmur (not currently with a team), Commanders QB coach Ken Zampese, Tennessee Titans QB coach/pass game coordinator Charles London, Miami Dolphins associate head coach/running backs coach Eric Studesville, San Francisco 49ers assistant head coach/running backs coach Anthony Lynn, former Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Los Angeles Rams assistant head coach/tight ends coach Thomas Brown. Zampese was the only coach on Washington’s staff to interview. — Keim
What does Bieniemy bring to the Commanders’ offense?
The Commanders are getting a detail-oriented offensive coordinator who will coach his players hard. Players tell stories of how Bieniemy harps on seemingly the smallest of details and makes sure he covers as many game situations as possible.
“He’s bringing it and it’s every day,” Reid said. “He doesn’t let one thing slide.”
On being a coach who stresses the details, Bieniemy said, “I take a lot of personal pride in making sure everything is dotted, T’s are crossed and everything is absolute.”
After the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LVII win over the Eagles, Mahomes gave Bieniemy credit for running back Jerick McKinnon sliding at the 1-yard line to set up the game-winning field goal, rather than score a touchdown and leave time on the clock for the Eagles to respond. Mahomes said Bieniemy repeatedly covers that scenario.
“Even though sometimes we get tired of listening and talking about those moments, they always seem to happen in the biggest games and he makes sure we go over the details every single week,” Mahomes said. — Teicher
What does Bieniemy have to work with in Washington?
It has three skilled receivers in McLaurin, Samuel and Dotson, two solid running backs in Antonio Gibson and Brian Robinson Jr. and a lot of questions.
Rivera has said Howell will enter spring workouts as the starting quarterback. Washington liked Howell quite a bit before the 2022 draft, but wasn’t going to pick him because it had traded for Carson Wentz. But when he was there in the fifth round, the Commanders pounced. Had they not traded for Wentz, they might have selected him in the second or third round.
But while they like Howell, the fact remains he’s attempted 19 passes in the NFL. And this also would be the second offense he’s had to learn in two years. Washington also needs to improve its offensive line, possibly adding two or three starters. — Keim
What does Bieniemy’s hiring mean ahead of Commanders’ likely sale?
It’s hard to fully know what it means, but it’s hard to imagine anyone coming here unless they felt comfortable Rivera would be coaching here in 2023. It’s one thing to try to bring on an established coach like Sean Payton — as he said one potential ownership group tried to do — it’s another to then perform a search that would include top assistants.
The other factor some have mentioned in Bieniemy’s favor is that with new owners, perhaps he could earn the job after this season if they wanted to fire Rivera. But there are some sticking points here. If Bieniemy’s offense does well, it likely means Washington has a good season — and Rivera would stick around. If the Commanders’ offense struggles, it would be a hard sell to promote Bieniemy or anyone else off this staff. Perhaps if Washington’s offense becomes explosive, but the team still finishes around .500 and the owners want a change then Bieniemy has a stronger case to take over. — Keim