The last two days have been all over the map for reports about Eric Bieniemy’s fortunes in Atlanta. The only clarity we have at the moment is that the he’s in the mix for the job alongside a candidate list that appears to include Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady, Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, and Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. Out of those candidates, only Smith has not yet interviewed for the job.
A quick timeline of reports from the last couple of days:
- On Friday, veteran Houston Chronicle reporter Aaron Wilson said on a Houston-area radio show that Bieniemy did not impress the Falcons when he interviewed with them, added that Atlanta was hoping its diverse list of candidates would lead to a Black head coach, and also heavily implied that Kansas City quarterback coach Mike Kafka deserved more credit for Patrick Mahomes’ success than Bieniemy. Having found Wilson to be a reliable reporter in the past, we shared the report here.
- The next day, Steve Wyche and Jim Trotter of the NFL Network and NFL.com joined D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in pushing back hard against Wilson’s comments. Trotter, in particular, wrote that reports like Wilson’s were part of a larger pattern of bad faith undermining of Black coaches, with Wyche noting that these kinds of reports do not ever seem to emerge for white candidates. Wyche quoted a Falcons official involved in the interview process stressing that Bieniemy’s interview was strong and that he was “prepared, knew everything about the team, had a great plan and is a bona fide candidate.” Both Trotter and Wyche pointed out that Bieniemy’s been praised pretty much universally by players and coaches who have worked with him in any capacity, as well.
- Also yesterday, ESPN reporters Jeremy Fowler and Dan Graziano wrote in an ESPN+ insider article (subscription required for the full thing) that Bieniemy “thought he had a good shot in Atlanta” after it became clear that Houston was not going to be a landing spot for him, but that “others” do not think he’s the top candidate for the job. That report notes that Joe Brady’s interview in Atlanta went well and he’s confident about his chances for the job, but the article lists Robert Saleh, Raheem Morris, and Arthur Smith as legitimate candidates, as well, while noting Atlanta still does not have a GM in place.
Where does this leave us? At the end of the day, still hopeful that Bieniemy can and will get the job, but uncertain about the outcome. From everything we’ve seen in recent days, it seems like the candidate list for the head coaching job is down to five legitimate candidates, with Bieniemy, Brady, Morris, Saleh and Smith on that list. It’s still not clear whether Atlanta plans to hire a new general manager before making a coaching hire—and if so, whether the list of interviewed candidates will expand, especially when coaches currently still in the playoffs become available to talk to—but the number of reports emerging today about the team being down to two or three finalists would suggest we’re getting close.
- On Sunday, ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio reported that Bieniemy is “privately saying he wants to stay with the Chiefs until he finds the perfect job.” Florio suggests that incredibly, the offensive coordinator for the league’s most lethal offense may not come out of the offseason with a head coaching job again. Considering Doug Pederson and Matt Nagy were snapped up when their turns came around, it would be difficult for the league to avoid accusations that Bieniemy is not getting an HC job because of his race.
What is clear amidst all these reports is that Bieniemy should not come out of this offseason in Kansas City, as he’s in his second straight hiring cycle as one of the clear cut top candidates and has been repeatedly declared ready to lead a team by one of the best coaches in the NFL in Andy Reid. We’ll see if he winds up with the Falcons or not when the dust settles on this coaching search, but I’d be disappointed if he lost out for that gig to an inexperienced candidate like Joe Brady.
Saturday’s updates below:
Reports have emerged that directly contradict Aaron Wilson’s comments about Bieniemy’s chances for the Falcons job.
Wyche’s report directly contradicts comments from Houston Chronicle reporter Aaron Wilson, who said recently that Bieniemy “did not crush” his interview with Atlanta. Similar comments about Robert Saleh’s interview in Detroit are also being refuted. Per Wyche:
Bieniemy, who is considered one of the top head-coaching candidates and who has interviewed for multiple head-coaching openings, “prepared, knew everything about the team, had a great plan and is a bona fide candidate,” the source said.
The source said Falcons officials are furious about reports that Bieniemy, 51, did not interview well and “absolutely refute” those reports.
Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy had strong interview with Falcons, in the mix to be their next head coach (per @wyche89)https://t.co/hqrgeI4R4Y pic.twitter.com/L80iGpRsmy— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) January 9, 2021
Another report from NFL Media reporter Jim Trotter casts doubt on the report on Bieniemy’s interview as well, and attacked the initial report as inaccurate and part of a pattern of reporting that damages the reputation of Black coaches. There were similar rumors for Bieniemy last year that were refuted by players and coaches on the Chiefs, and Trotter and others have pointed out that reports of white candidates interviewing poorly never seem to emerge.
The thing that’s so appalling here is that there appears to have been no attempt to get a comment from the Falcons. I spoke this morning to a Falcons official involved in the interview process, who said of the story: “Nothing could be further from the truth.”— Jim Trotter (@JimTrotter_NFL) January 9, 2021
D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution weighed in, as well, dismissing the report as untrue.
Don’t waste your time with the Eric Bieniemy didn’t crush his interview with the #Falcons reports. It’s not accurate. Now, enjoy Super Wildcard Weekend.— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@DOrlandoAJC) January 9, 2021
As a reminder—and we’ve left the original story intact below for those who want to re-visit it—Wilson told a Houston radio show that Bieniemy “did not crush” his interview with the Falcons, while adding that the team was hoping to hire a Black head coach for the first time in team history (Raheem Morris and Emmitt Thomas were both interim HCs). He did not specifically say that interview doomed Bieniemy’s chances with the team, but did indicate teams were not as interested in a coach who was one of the presumptive 2-3 top candidates on the market as might be expected, even if Bieniemy has interviewed or will interview with every team with an opening.
The number and strength of reports refuting Aaron Wilson’s recent comments from very well-connected reporters are such that Bieniemy should indeed be assumed to be a candidate the Falcons like, and one who will be in play when they eventually make their hire. Wilson’s report was disappointing for those of us hoping Bieniemy would be the team’s top choice for the head coaching vacancy in 2021, so these refutations do come as a major relief, even if there’s no guarantee he’ll be the candidate the Falcons select for their head coaching job.
This remains a case of dueling reports—and as is ever the case in the NFL, we’re not getting named sources from anybody and don’t expect to—but Wyche has strong ties to Altanta dating back to his days at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Ledbetter is plugged in locally. Chances are good Bieniemy’s footing with the team is solid as they roll through a series of interviews that have included interim head coach Raheem Morris, Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady, and 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
Original story follows: As we continue to hear more about the Atlanta Falcons coaching search, NFL reporter Aaron Wilson has shared some eye-opening tidbits about its direction and the status of one of the presumed top candidates.
Wilson, a veteran league reporter who covers the Houston Texans for the Houston Chronicle and a former Baltimore Ravens beat writer, brought up the Falcons in an interview with Houston radio program The A-Team with Wexler & Clanton.
Toward the end of that interview, Wilson was discussing the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy as a potential candidate with Houston.
It provided background to why the Texans has yet to interview Bieniemy to work with star quarterback Deshaun Watson, considering the OC’s stellar job making Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes the league’s Most Valuable Player.
Wilson cast doubt on that team’s interest in Bieniemy and brought up his recent interview with the Falcons to explain why Bieniemy may not be as sought-after as expected.
The interview view
Wilson said two important and interesting notes about Atlanta’s head coach search.
[The Falcons] literally want to hire a Black coach. They would love for him to crush the interview. He did not crush the interview, and these teams care a lot about these interviews.
Wilson says the problem is not due to anything in Bieniemy’s past or something unknown to fans; it’s just been a matter of teams not being interested.
“He’s a good family man; he’s a good guy,” Wilson said. “He’s a good coach, but the teams have a right to hire whoever they want.”
Wilson followed by saying he has heard a lot about Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith in connection to the Falcons. Wilson said San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, a candidate for the Falcons, did not interview well with the Detroit Lions.
While Wilson is not a name we hear a lot about with the Falcons, he did recently link former Houston general manager Rick Smith to the Falcons, even going so far that he’d bet someone dinner that Smith would be Atlanta’s next GM.
Wilson’s intel is disappointing to Atlanta fans hoping Bieniemy might be the next head coach, though it’s massively encouraging to know the organization is being intentional about diversity in the hiring process.
Wilson’s insight does not mean that Bieniemy is out of running for the job, but it raises questions about his candidacy. It is a reminder that we never know how interviews go behind the scenes, however, Bieniemy is widely considered to be the top candidate this offseason.
A diverse search
The Falcons have repeatedly said they want a diverse search. So far, the Falcons have or are set to interview the following Black candidates: Bieniemy, Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris.
Other Black candidates could include former Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis, Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods and ex-Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn.
The Falcons have interviewed multiple Black candidates for the GM opening: Rick Smith, Saints exec. Terry Fontenot, Rams college scouting director Brad Holmes, Colts college scouting director Morocco Brown and the team’s own Anthony Robinson.
Other Black candidates have been linked to the job, including former Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie, Bears asst. director of player personnel Champ Kelly and ESPN analyst Louis Riddick. ESPN reported last month that the Falcons were looking at diverse candidates for GM, and the list is reflective of that.
We will see what this report means for the Falcons coaching search, though it does highlight the organization’s focus on diverse candidates and why Bieniemy might not be the frontrunner. Arthur Smith is a name we are keeping tabs on, as he would fit right in with the Falcons’ offensive personnel and has a stellar body of work in Tennessee in his two seasons calling plays.
Expect more news about Bieniemy’s candidacy and if the Falcons organization honors its pursuit to diversify the team’s leadership.