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Why the Commanders believe they got their guy in Eric Bieniemy

Commanders assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy speaks during an introductory news conference on Thursday. (Craig Hudson/For the Washington Post)
5 min

Eric Bieniemy dressed for the occasion — a three-piece gray suit with a burgundy tie — but left his most valuable accessory at home. He wore the 255-diamond ring that commemorated the first of his two Super Bowl victories with the Kansas City Chiefs when he signed his contract with the Washington Commanders last week. But it was noticeably absent Thursday, when the team introduced him as its offensive coordinator and assistant head coach.

He didn’t need it.

“He brings that championship caliber with him, his ability to just win,” said wide receiver Terry McLaurin, who sat in the front row of the team’s auditorium with nearly a dozen of his teammates during Thursday’s news conference. “That’s the biggest thing we want in this offense, to be explosive, to be aggressive and to be complementary, but also to have an identity, and I think he brings that. He brings that competitiveness.”

After 10 seasons with the Chiefs, first as their running backs coach and then offensive coordinator, Bieniemy anticipated he would make a change even before helping the team to a Super Bowl LVII win. He celebrated in the streets of Kansas City during the Chiefs’ parade, then hours later boarded a plane for his interviews with the Commanders.

“We’ve got our guy,” Coach Ron Rivera said Thursday. “It was a very long process … and that was on purpose. We wanted to be very thorough, wanted to get the opportunity to get to meet a lot of [candidates]. … And Eric Bieniemy just happened to be very busy at the time.”

Upon arriving in the D.C. area last week, Bieniemy met with Rivera and General Manager Martin Mayhew, spoke to team president Jason Wright and talked to all of Washington’s assistant coaches to start to implement his vision for the offense.

“Most importantly, I wanted to sit and have an opportunity to talk to everybody and just listen so I can learn the culture and learn what has taken place and learn the environment, and I think that’s very important when you’re coming into a new position,” Bieniemy said. “You want creative coaches. You also want people who can relate to the people and adapt to the environment in that room. You got to have that connection.”

Washington parted ways with wide receivers coach Drew Terrell and senior offensive assistant Jim Hostler, and more change could come. Bieniemy and Rivera have discussed a detailed plan for coaches’ roles, down to their responsibilities during organized team activities and training camp, a period that will be critical to the offense’s development.

What to expect from Eric Bieniemy’s Commanders offense in Washington

Washington waited more than four weeks to replace Scott Turner, interviewing seven candidates before flying in Bieniemy. Over that time, Rivera’s plan for the offense changed, and he moved on from his initial thought of keeping things as similar as possible.

For more than a decade, Rivera’s teams have used an Air Coryell offense, led by Norv Turner and later his son. Under Bieniemy, Washington will have a West Coast scheme.

For a coach beginning the fourth year of a rebuild amid a possible ownership change, making wholesale changes to the offense — new terminology, some new concepts and probably a young quarterback, Sam Howell — comes with risk. Those changes called for Rivera to step outside of his comfort zone.

“It was to go beyond what I’m used to and what we had done in the past,” Rivera said. “I mean, we had basically the same style of offense for 12 years. But watching [the Chiefs] on TV and seeing them in the playoffs and just thinking: ‘Man, we have pretty good talent. I think we can do a lot of the things they’re doing.'”

Rivera spoke to Andy Reid about Bieniemy’s coaching style and role in Kansas City and to others who worked with Bieniemy over the years. Rivera also kept some of his players, including McLaurin and Howell, abreast of the team’s search, and he closed the process with the belief Washington got the right man for the job.

Inside the plays: The schemes and scramble that won the Chiefs the Super Bowl

In their initial conversations, Bieniemy and Rivera spoke about Washington’s roster and Howell’s potential. They spoke about Brian Robinson Jr. and the running game, the growth of the tight ends and the team’s trio of wide receivers: McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson. They also discussed some of the unit’s weaknesses and ways to solidify the roster.

“He talked about this plan for Terry and his plan for Jahan and his plan for Curtis and how he felt about the running game. He had an idea of where he wanted to go,” Rivera said.

Over the past five offseasons, Bieniemy has interviewed 16 times (twice with the New York Jets) for head coaching vacancies and was turned down for all of them. A week before Bieniemy was hired, Rivera indicated he hoped to give him an opportunity to run his own offense and, perhaps, move closer to a head-coaching job.

On Thursday, Bieniemy said his focus is on leading the Commanders’ offense, not the “distractions” from outside. He said his concern is preparing his players and coaches and letting Wright and others manage the news of a possible franchise sale. He said a future as a head coach “will take care of itself.”

“Right now, the only thing that matters is who we are and where we are,” Bieniemy said. “... There is talent here. Now we have to put it together and do it the right way. But why not come to the Washington Commanders?”