ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Eric Bieniemy’s voice is one of the clearer ones on the practice field. On his first day of training camp since joining the Washington Commanders, it wasn’t hard to understand his message.
“Let’s go!” Bieniemy shouted. “It’s work time.”
Bieniemy is now at work in his new job as Washington’s offensive coordinator, bringing a vocal approach and two Super Bowl rings to an organization that hasn’t won a playoff game in nearly two decades. It’s his chance to get out from under the shadows cast by Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid and prove he should be a head coach in the NFL, working under Ron Rivera and with unproven quarterback Sam Howell.
“He’s going to do a heck of a job there and really show his personality within the offense,” Reid said. “I’m so happy for E.B. to have his chance to put his name on an offense. This is his now. He’s working for Ron Rivera, who is a dear friend — more of a defensive head coach than offensive head coach. This allows E.B. to do his thing.”
Bieniemy’s thing has been winning thanks to one of the best offenses in the league. The Chiefs ranked first on that side of the ball three times in his five years running the unit and were never worse than sixth — with Super Bowl titles following the 2019 and 2022 seasons.
Despite all that, the former running back interviewed with more than a dozen teams but never was hired as a head coach, in part because Reid called the plays for Kansas City and is considered an offensive guru.
Bieniemy is following a path similar to Rivera, a retired linebacker who had to work for an offensive coach before getting a head job.
If he can turn Howell, a 2022 fifth-round pick with one game of pro experience, into a reliable NFL starter, that may be enough to land one.
But, first, Bieniemy has to get players to buy in to his brand of coaching that has apparently flustered some of them in camp. Rivera earlier this week let it slip that some players expressed concern over Bieniemy’s intense style — remarks the fourth-year Washington coach spoke to his offensive coordinator about and attempted to clarify a day later.
“Eric has an approach, and it’s the way he does things and he’s not going to change because he believes in it,” Rivera said, contrasting that with himself and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. “Having been a head coach, I think Jack has a tendency to try and figure guys out a little bit more as opposed to, ‘Hey, this is it, this is the way it’s going to be’ — that type of stuff. Where Eric hasn’t had that experience yet.”
Bieniemy, 53, doesn’t shy away from his intensity, and his yelling at practice almost always is encouraging and constructive. He’s trying to fix mistakes and form good habits before the football counts for real.
“We all got to get uncomfortable to get comfortable,” Bieniemy said. “There’s some new demands and expectations that I expect. I expect us to be the team that we’re supposed to be. It’s not going to be easy, and everybody isn’t going to like the process. But when it’s all said and done with, my job is to make sure that we’re doing it the right way.”
Even if some players wondered about how Bieniemy was going about that process, many have embraced it.
“E.B. does a great job of just coaching the details,” second-year running back Brian Robinson Jr. said. “He also does a great job of just making sure guys don’t go without knowing their assignments. That’s been great for us to just help us learn.”
There’s a lot of learning to do. Bieniemy brought an entirely different system to Washington, one with new verbiage and more of the run-pass options that have become a feature of modern offenses.
From Howell and veteran backup Jacoby Brisett to top receiver Terry McLaurin and a remade offensive line, it’s a lot to pick up and memorize on the fly.
Bieniemy gets fired up talking about young players figuring it out along the way, and he’s doing his best to help them.
“I’m only asking them each and every day just work on three things: Find three things to work on,” Bieniemy said. “I know practice is not going to be perfect, but if there’s three things that you can address, define what those three things are, then if you are making that necessary adjustment and working on those things, we got a chance.”
Players need to look no further than the Chiefs for evidence of Bieniemy’s work. Or just listen to Mahomes, whose career as a starter in the pros has coincided with Bieniemy running the offense.
“I’m excited for Washington because I know how inspiring that he can be and how smart he was for us,” Mahomes said on the AP Pro Football Podcast. “I have so much respect for E.B. He’s such a great coach, a great person.”
When Rivera’s comments about Bieniemy and players’ reactions caused an uproar around the league, former Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill was among those who came to his former coach’s defense. Hill posted on social media that no one has a player’s back more than Bieniemy and advised the Commanders that the tough coaching will make them better.
If it works, the conversation will turn to Bieniemy getting the promotion many in the game have thought he should have had for years now.
“I loved playing for E.B — the fire, the passion he brings for the game, the consistency he brings,” Chiefs guard Trey Smith said during his appearance on the AP Pro Football Podcast. ”He definitely has deserved and earned the right to be a head coach in this league.”
AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi and AP Sports Writer David Skretta contributed.
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