A consistent feature of Washington Commanders training camp this year has been a booming voice from the sideline. Eric Bieniemy, the former Kansas City Chiefs assistant who is now Washington’s offensive coordinator and assistant head coach, has a style starkly different from those of other coaches in recent years. He’s loud. He’s intense. He harps on the details, often using the same refrains and demanding do-overs of plays and huddles.
“Get them in the effing huddle!” he yelled at quarterback Sam Howell during team drills last week. “Enough with all the effing walking!”
Some players in Washington have welcomed the tough coaching. Others, according to Coach Ron Rivera, have been “a little concerned.”
In Kansas City, Bieniemy’s conversations with players on the sideline at times appeared tenuous. In 2019, tight end Travis Kelce appeared to shove Bieniemy while talking to him, but the two hugged it out shortly after. Kelce told reporters the next day that “sometimes you get a little heated with your brothers or your coaches” but that he and Bieniemy had a close relationship.
Travis Kelce got some nerve putting his hands on future Baltimore Ravens head coach, Eric Bieniemy. pic.twitter.com/k2DsWRdbxT— Kip Smithers (@Chughes612) October 7, 2019
In September, quarterback Patrick Mahomes had a tense conversation with Bieniemy during a game. Coach Andy Reid stepped between them to defuse the situation.
Rivera said some players were “a little concerned” with how hard Bieniemy was riding them. After Bieniemy was hired, there was concern over how some players would handle his approach, one source said in the offseason.
Bieniemy replaced the more low-key Scott Turner, who was fired after three seasons — and with players complaining about the offense.
Rivera also said some of it stems from young players perhaps coming out of programs that did not have coaches with similar intensity. He said those players sometimes struggle with this approach.
“As a coach, I have to assimilate and get a feel for everybody,” Rivera said. “Eric has an approach and it’s the way he does things and it’s not going to change because he believes in it. [Defensive coordinator] Jack [Del Rio] has his approach. Having been a head coach, I think Jack has a tendency to try to 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. Eric hasn’t had that experience yet.”
The coordinator’s relentless and thunderous shouts can be heard throughout the practice fields. “He’s loud,” Rivera said. Another place the coach’s voice echoes? Running back Antonio Gibson’s dreams.
“Always,” said a smiling Gibson before impersonating one of Bieniemy’s go-to commands for the ball carriers. “FINISH! If you’re at the 10(-yard line), you might as well score!”
The ex-Chiefs offensive coordinator’s landing with Washington looked like a lateral move. In reality, it came with a significant step up in responsibility and a boss in Rivera aiming to help Bieniemy’s career trajectory, which would likely help his own. The Commanders are 22-27-1 under Rivera.
Bieniemy interviewed 16 times for 15 head-coaching openings over the past four years without landing a job. He became a first-time, full-time play caller when Rivera hired him in February following a lengthy search and after Kansas City’s second Super Bowl title since 2019.
The gig came with additional perks. Rivera gave Bieniemy an assistant head coach title that wasn’t perfunctory. He wanted to share lessons he learned before ascending through the coaching ranks. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, also twice an NFL head coach, is in the building for consultation. Knowing that installing a new offense isn’t a small task, Rivera allowed Bieniemy to dictate the practice structure, schedule and, therefore, the daily tone.
Yet Rivera, a head coach since 2011, chose Tuesday — without any pressure or a pointed question — to share that players “were a little concerned” about Bieniemy’s approach and mention how alternate tactics exist.
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Former Chiefs running back LeSean McCoy chimed in, “All Bieniemy does is argue [with] players.”
McCoy previously said, “Listen, because some players he talks to them a certain way, and some players would take it,” McCoy said. “I wouldn’t take it, like ‘whoa…”
After the Chiefs won its second Super Bowl last season, Bieniemy became available this off-season. He drew interest from the Commanders and Baltimore Ravens before landing in Washington. The spin behind his Kansas City departure was to allow him to call plays.
Bieniemy didn’t exclusively call plays under head coach Andy Reid. Reid handled the primary play-calling duties. Bienieny has yearned to be a head coach in the NFL, and despite the Chiefs’ success, teams passed him over during each hiring cycle.
Many pundits, including McCoy, have debated why Bieniemy has yet to land a head coach job. Meanwhile, in Washington, he gets an opportunity to set his offense, call plays, and be an assistant head coach hoping to prove he is ready to take over a team.
For a new environment with a struggling team, Bieniemy wants to set a tone with the Commanders. The players get the expletives, chastising, and command approach.
Pro Football Talk
Commanders head coach Ron Rivera has encouraged his new offensive coordinator and assistant head coach, Eric Bieniemy, to set the tempo of practices. And not every player has been on board with Bieniemy’s approach.
Rivera acknowledged that some players approached him with concerns about how hard Bieniemy rides them, but Rivera told them they should just talk to Bieniemy if they have an issue.
Said Bieniemy in the face of criticism emerging from his own locker room: “If I’m not doing my job, my a** gets fired.”
Rivera is opening speaking on Bieniemy’s personality and his impact on the offense in his short time running it. … and trying to manage the players who aren’t quite getting it.
“We’re out of our comfort zone,” Rivera said. “We’re doing things a little bit differently. I’ve been doing things for the most part the same way for 12 years. This is something that’s been different but it’s been good for our guys I think.”
While Rivera said he thinks it’s good the players are getting out of their comfort zone, not everyone seems to be on the same page.
“A lot of these young guys, they do struggle with certain things and a lot of it ... is from where they’ve been. I mean, guys coming from certain programs are used to it. Guys coming from other programs aren’t as much. So, us as a coach, I kind of have to assimilate and get a feel for everybody.”
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The Commanders may be Bieniemy’s biggest shot at proving he can be an NFL head coach. His approach won’t be enjoyable all the time. But it’s more about the players of today. Tough coaching sometimes is frowned upon. The reception depends on the acceptance of the player.
“I’m going to be their biggest and harshest critic, but also understand, I’m going to be their number one fan because I support them at all times,” Bieniemy continued.
Bieniemy’s approach is a culture shock for the Commanders. The franchise has not had much go right for it in the least three decades. To some, Bieniemy is a breath of fresh air. Yet, others may not be accepted for that type of shakeup.
The 2023-24 season is pivotal for the Commanders. We’ll learn more about Rivera, Bieniemy, and the players as the season unfolds.
Andy Reid talked up Eric Bieniemy quite a bit, hoping EB would find a new job. Reid clearly wanted Matt Nagy in the role of Chiefs offensive coordinator. Isn’t it a real probability that Bieniemy had worn out his welcome and some were tired of his constant volume?
Isn’t it also part of the reality that the Commanders offense has under-performed in Rivera’s three seasons in Washington? Isn’t it very likely that Bieniemy’s intensity could be a good thing needed for the Commanders offensive personnel?
It actually concerned me when Rivera later made his comparison of Bieniemy with defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. Yes, Del Rio has been an NFL head coach for 12 seasons. That is a tremendous amount of experience. Yet, I don’t know why Rivera would make that comparison publicly. Shouldn’t that have been made between only Rivera and Bieniemy?
“Hey Eric, your intensity is tremendous for us. Thank you for bringing such an urgency to us. However, there is a time and a place for everything. Take Jack, for example, he is demanding, and you need to figure out how you can still be a demanding coach, sometimes quietly, and not cursing the guys so loudly and so often.”
Podcasts & videos
Al Galdi podcast - Episode 629: Ron Rivera reveals players expressed concerns about Eric Bieniemy, Bieniemy responds and more
The D-Line is gearing up for a big year— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) August 8, 2023
The fans were back in the stands as the Washington Commanders began Day 12 of training camp. Check out the top photos from this morning.
"You can see when he's confident, he's...releasing that ball. It's a thing of beauty."— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) August 8, 2023
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There appears to be no end in sight to the stalemate between the Cowboys and hold-out All-Pro guard Zack Martin. Martin has not been in touch with anyone on the Cowboys since the opening week of training camp.
The Cowboys are continuing to take a hard line stance with Martin’s contract demands because the NFL rules regarding holdouts are firmly on their side. Martin has incurred fines of $600,000 through Monday and they can’t be rescinded.
“Not really. Not really. Surprise is really not the word there. It’s very costly and so that’s, that’s where we are. Huge, significant ramifications ... by anybody’s math,” owner Jerry Jones said Monday when asked if he was surprised Martin was still holding out.
Jones said the Cowboys are treating Martin’s absence like losing a player to injury and are prepared to start the season without him, if necessary.
“So you realize that not having him here, it could happen on the next play,” Jones said. “And you’re not happy. So gotta put that one on and say we’ll just move on here without him. But you say, ‘boy that sounds concerning.’ No, I’m just trying to give you how you really have to look at it.”
Blogging the Boys
You have to go back to 2018 when the veteran guard was absent from team activities and refused to participate in OTA’s amidst another contract holdout situation. Martin had just one year left on his rookie deal (the fifth-year option the team exercised), but he wanted long-term security. Ultimately, he got what he wanted as he signed a new six-year contract worth $84 million just 18 days after the holdout began. It made Martin the top-paid guard in the NFL.
Fast forward five years and here we are again. This time, instead of long-term security, Martin wants adequate compensation. Over time, the going rate of top guard play has increased while his salary has remained relatively the same. Martin has been the team’s most stalwart contributor in the trenches over the last nine seasons and has shown no signs of slowing down, so, understandably, he wants to be paid accordingly. Yet here we are. The Cowboys are without one of their top players and Martin continues to rack up fines to the tune of $50,000 per missed practice.
How will all of this end, and when should we expect that to happen?
Big Blue View
Reports from Michigan indicate this wasn’t the best day for the Giants on offense
“I just missed a couple of them that normally I feel pretty good about,” Jones said after practice.
Jones said there was a deep throw to Darren Waller he missed that he has “hit several times” in earlier practices.
Regardless of the results, Jones said the work was “valuable.”
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Tennessee Titans Coach Mike Vrabel will give one of his assistants a chance to burnish his résumé, saying Monday that Terrell Williams will coach the team in its preseason opener Saturday afternoon against the Chicago Bears.
Williams, the team’s assistant head coach/defensive line coach, “will act as head coach starting Friday,” Vrabel told reporters, calling it “a great opportunity [that is] well deserved.”
“We’ll have a lot of conversations between now and Friday,” Vrabel said, “but just handling things with the roster and discussing those things with the assistant coaches and how we want to play the game and let him make those decisions in the game [is the plan].”
Vrabel will be involved in preparations and will be on the sideline during the game. “We’ll go into the game with things we want to make sure get done, and I’m sure he’ll try to do that,” Vrabel said. “I’ll help him where need be.”
The overall plan? “To help him understand that role [of a head coach] and what’s required” during a game.
The move also should add visibility to Williams’s strong résumé among Black head-coaching candidates.