Brian Flores is now the name most associated with the disturbing lack of diversity in NFL head coaching hires after filing his discrimination lawsuit against the league earlier this week.
But if there has been anyone who has come to personify the closed-door policy of NFL owners to minority hires, whether intentional or not, it’s Eric Bieniemy.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ longtime offensive coordinator has had his name tied to head coaching vacancies for years, and every season that Bieniemy interviews, he fails to get hired and returns to lead the Chiefs to the AFC Conference Championship Game with the most-feared and respected offense in the league.
But perhaps, in the wake of Flores’ lawsuit, Bieniemy is finally going to get the chance he has earned long go. On Saturday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted that Bieniemy will interview for the New Orleans Saints’ vacant head coaching position.
The Saints are flying Bieniemy in for an interview Sunday
Bieniemy, whom the Saints are flying into New Orleans on Sunday for the interview, will be the sixth and last coaching candidate interviewed by the Saints since longtime head coach Sean Payton stepped down last month.
As has been the case for Bieniemy for several years now, he is hardly a lock to get the Saints’ job. The team’s defensive coordinator, Dennis Allen, is considered the front-runner, not least of which because Payton has endorsed him and it affords the Saints some continuity as they transition to their first new head coach in 16 years.
The late addition of Bieniemy, who is originally from New Orleans, is an interesting development, as two of the other prime candidates, Flores and Doug Pederson, are out of the mix. Flores is unlikely to be hired after his lawsuit this week and Pederson took the Jacksonville Jaguars head coaching position this week.
But if the team is not entirely sold on Allen, Bieniemy has a chance to convince the Saints that, at long last, he is the right man for the job.
Bieniemy has long been considered – and overlooked – as a top coaching candidate
Bieniemy’s interview with the Saints will be his 14th attempt to fill a head-coaching vacancy since he first interviewed for jobs after the 2018 season. Besides the Saints, Bieniemy was interviewed this offseason by the Denver Broncos, who instead hired Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.
Last season, Bieniemy interviewed for five of the six available head-coaching openings and was not hired. In the two seasons prior to that, Bieniemy interviewed for seven other job openings and came away with no offers. During that time, the Chiefs reached the AFC Championship Game in every season and advanced to two Super Bowls, winning in the 2019 season.
Flores cited Bieniemy’s inability to be hired despite his resume and myriad of interviews as a prime example of the racially-motivated hiring practices in the NFL. Currently, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers is the only African-American head coach out of 32 teams.
“Without question, Mr. Bieniemy has the pedigree, track record and reputation to make him a sought-after Head Coach,” Flores says in the lawsuit. “However, despite being interviewed for approximately 20 vacant positions over the last five years, no team has extended Mr. Bieniemy an offer.
“During this time, numerous white candidates who are clearly less qualified have taken over the Head Coach duties for numerous NFL teams.”
Commissioner Roger Goodell chastised the league Saturday for its minority hiring record
On Saturday, NFL Commissioner sent out a letter to all 32 teams, criticizing the league for its hiring record with respect to minority candidates. Schefter tweeted out the content of the letter Saturday.
“With respect to head coaches, the results have been unacceptable,” Goodell wrote in the letter.
“Racism and any form of discrimination is contrary to the NFL’s values,” Goodell wrote. “We have made significant efforts to promote diversity and adopted numerous policies and programs which have produced positive change in many areas, however we must acknowledge that particularly with respect to head coach the results have been unacceptable.
“We will reevaluate and examine all policies, guidelines and initiatives relating to diversity, equity and inclusion, including as they relate to gender. We are retaining outside experts to assist in this review and will also solicit input from current and former players and coaches, advocates and other authorities in this area.”
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference