Chiefs' Eric Bieniemy has a Super Bowl ring. Next step: NFL head-coaching job

Riddick frustrated by lack of progress with Rooney Rule (1:22)

Louis Riddick says there is no excuse as to why Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is not a head-coaching candidate around the NFL. (1:22)

MIAMI -- Savor the moment.

Eric Bieniemy delivered that message to Kansas City Chiefs players for weeks leading up to Super Bowl LIV.

He had even delivered it at their lowest point, shortly after the soul-crushing overtime loss to the New England Patriots in the previous year's AFC title game.

Bieniemy couldn't shake the vision of players crying and hunched over at their lockers inside Arrowhead Stadium, so when the team reconvened, he told them to remember the feeling -- and embrace the change that will come.

"It's all about the relationships built and established, the bonds that are formed during this time, and making sure these guys aren't taking the moment for granted," Bieniemy told ESPN in a phone interview.

While social media issued a collective 'SMH' every time Bieniemy got passed over for a head-coaching job -- after the seventh time in two years, the trash-bin emoji sufficed -- Bieniemy evaded the negativity like his quarterback escapes the rush. He shuts down that topic every time.

He has been too busy enjoying life as Super Bowl champion, working side-by-side with the most exciting player in football, Patrick Mahomes, and the most innovative offensive coach, Andy Reid. Getting here took the better part of 50 years.

Twenty-one years ago, Brad Childress walked over the hill at Lehigh University about an hour before a Philadelphia Eagles training camp practice. It was 7:15 a.m., the high-80s climate crisping the grass, and Childress, then the team's quarterbacks coach, saw his backup running back, Bieniemy, stretching and rehearsing running back steps in solitude.

"I said, 'Wow, how long has he been there?'" said Childress, the former Minnesota Vikings coach who hired Bieniemy as his running backs coach from 2006 to 2010. "He needed to do more."

Doing more hasn't been enough to make Bieniemy a head coach in the NFL. Bieniemy, a nine-year NFL running back and national champion at Colorado, has become the face of the Rooney Rule's flaws. This is not something he invited, to be sure. But he's part of a two-year cycle that features one African American hire, Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores, out of the last 12.

The New York Giants told Bieniemy 'no thanks' and selected Joe Judge, a coach with far less coordinator experience. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said at his Super Bowl news conference that the rule is broken, but offered no specifics for fixing it. As many black assistant coaches like to say, the NFL keeps moving the goalposts on their candidacy. Coaches are told they must be offensive coaches, until told they need to call plays ... until the next arbitrary reason surfaces.

Bieniemy's obstacles also highlight the serious lack of minority assistant coaches in coveted offensive roles such as playcaller, coordinator or quarterbacks coach. Bieniemy's lone counterpart is Tampa Bay's Byron Leftwich, who is the NFL's only black coordinator who serves as a singular playcaller. Leftwich was the game's only black quarterbacks coach in 2018, and today the game sports two: Miami's Robby Brown and Indianapolis' Marcus Berry.

Some teams keep the quarterback coach role vacant if the head coach has experience at the position. It's actually more rare to be a black assistant in those positions than a head coach, of which there are three in 2020: the Steelers' Mike Tomlin, the Dolphins' Brian Flores and the Chargers' Anthony Lynn.

Brian Levy, Bienemy's longtime agent, said his client was disappointed that teams said he performed "extremely well" in interviews in a tough setting -- squeezing in three interviews back-to-back-to-back in hotel rooms between Chiefs planning meetings -- yet still went in a different direction.

"I didn't get any negative feedback. That probably, for him, was the most frustrating," Levy said.

But Bieniemy isn't carrying baggage that consumes him. Levy noticed how quickly Bieniemy quelled that disappointment, pouring himself into the job. During Super Bowl week, Bieniemy took his work straight from the practice field to his hotel room along with a makeshift dinner, searching for any advantage. Andy Reid and his coaches held their weekly ideas meeting where anything goes -- including a 1948 Rose Bowl play with a puree twist.

The staff spends countless hours digging in the crates for old playcalling gems, with Reid serving as the vibe curator.

"I'm a focus-driven individual," Bieniemy said. "I don't have time for negative energy. ... We want to make sure we do everything that helps us achieve our goals as a team. Why waste that opportunity?"

This was the case from his playing days, when Bieniemy used to hit the archaic cold tub inside Veterans Stadium 90 minutes before a practice. Eventually, he enrolled in a team-issued program called "Invest in yourself," which forced Bieniemy to map out a plan for his post-career life. That led him to Colorado to finish his degree. There, coach Gary Barnett welcomed him into the football offices to watch tape and get to know the staff.

Bieniemy had dreams of being a successful high school football coach: get a master's degree in education, and win some prep championships. But once he was in the door of high-level football, he was hooked. Barnett brought him on as CU's running backs coach and he worked his way through the system until joining Reid's staff in Kansas City in 2013.

He knows the taste of winning is insatiable.

"Twenty-five years ago I had an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl, thinking it would happen again before I ended up retiring," said Bieniemy, who was on the 1994 San Diego Chargers team that lost to the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX. "And here it is 25 years later. It doesn't just happen. You're talking to a guy who was a part of something special in college."

No, it doesn't just happen, until a coach's dream quarterback comes around.

Mahomes' unprecedented two-year debut that includes a regular-season and Super Bowl MVP will earn him the richest contract in NFL history soon enough. But Bieniemy says Mahomes is one of the most coachable players he's ever been around, which is helpful because he likes to coach hard.

This is coming from the same guy who coached Adrian Peterson so tough in Minnesota that "I swear to God he ripped his skin off every day," Childress recalled. "He got every stinking thing he could out of him."

The two had to hash things out eventually, but Peterson grew to respect Bieniemy for maximizing his talent. When the Vikings were coaching the Pro Bowl one year, Childress overheard Peterson nudging teammates, pointing to Bieniemy and saying "that guy's the truth."

Bieniemy has mellowed a bit, but he tests Mahomes' mental toughness on occasion. Nothing rattles him. After a Mahomes interception early last year, Bieniemy told Mahomes from the sideline, "If you're going to throw it, don't give it to them." Mahomes said "yes sir" and went about his business.

"I can get in his ass, and he's not going to take it personally," Bieniemy said. "You can coach him as hard as needed, and he's a yes-sir, no-sir kid, but you can sit back and have a conversation about anything. Our relationship is very unique. There's also a mutual respect."

Mahomes has the rare ability to concisely explain exactly what he sees out of a play, said Bieniemy, who approaches his quarterback with a balanced attack -- stay a gunslinger, but protect the ball.

"There's no question who runs the room with him," said Childress of Bienemy. "He was one of the only ones who could tell me during the game I was acting crazy and I would listen."

And Reid continues to embolden Bieniemy, who has influence on everything from playcalling to big-picture ideas. Kansas City keeps its staff intact and has the pieces to make a dynasty run. Reid has used several interviews to bolster Bieniemy's head-coaching profile, calling him invaluable to the Chiefs' success.

Minus the job-interview stuff, Kansas City is coaching euphoria right now. The head-coaching storyline never became a distraction, of which Bieniemy is proud.

"I didn't allow it to be," he said. "If you do it the right way, you're prepared in the offseason. And on top of that, I wanted the guys to know, I'm all in."

That was before Bieniemy could sell a Super Bowl formula to future employers, the fulfillment of a dream that plays in any room.

"If in fact there's any vindication, it's the fact he will be wearing a ring the next time he goes into interviews," Levy said. "Whoever he sits in front of will have to look at that ring during the entire interview."