By Lew Gould
Maybe we know now why Eric Bieniemy has had such a hard time getting a head coaching position.
He’s too tough on the NFL’s delicate diva players!
Commanders coach Ron Rivera said some of his players expressed concern over new offensive coordinator Bieniemy’s intensity during practice. But Bieniemy, also the assistant head coach, said he’s not about to change his approach.
“I’m always going to be loud, always going to be vocal, always going to demand from my leaders,” Bieniemy said, adding he knows what would happen if he altered his belief.
“If I ain’t doing my job, my ass gets fired. It’s my job and my responsibility to make sure I’m getting our guys to do what I’m expecting them to do.”
Washington hired Bieniemy this offseason after he spent the past 10 years with Kansas City, including the past five as an offensive coordinator when they won two Super Bowls. Rivera hired him to inject a spark into an offense that has not ranked above 20th in points or yards per game since 2017.
It’s also a critical year for Rivera, entering his fourth season with Washington and first with new owner Josh Harris. Bieniemy joined the staff with the reputation for being an intense, demanding coach. His approach has been evident during the spring and summer practices. He can be heard more than any other coach, both when he corrects or praises a player.
Bieniemy didn’t waver in his intensity. Every running back hears the same word — “Finish!” — on each carry. He’s sent the first offense off the field because it didn’t get into the huddle fast enough; he’s demanded the offense get in and out of the huddle quicker.
“I want our guys to clearly understand we don’t take anything for granted,” Bieniemy said. “You see me pull players and have long discussions with them so we’re always on the same page. Eric Bieniemy is who he is. Eric Bieniemy knows how to adapt and adjust. Eric Bieniemy is a tough, hard-nosed coach, but also understand I’m going to be the biggest and harshest critic but also their No. 1 fan. I got their back … all the time.”
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.
“I had a number of guys come to me and I said, ‘Hey, just go talk to him.’ I said, ‘Understand what he’s trying to get across to you,'” Rivera said. “As they go and they talk and they listen to him, it’s been enlightening for a lot of these guys. I mean, it’s a whole different approach.”
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.”
Bieniemy has interviewed for a head-coaching position 15 times but has yet to land that job.
He said he tries to head off any potential issues by sitting down with players before it gets too bad. He called himself an “open book.”
“One thing they do appreciate: I’m always up-front and honest,” Bieniemy said.
“One of the biggest things he talked about with us is just communicating,” Washington receiver Jahan Dotson said. “We can go to him; his door’s always open. That’s what you want in a coach, a guy who listens, a guy who acts upon the things you asked for. He’s helping us get to where we want to be.”
Bieniemy does not discriminate about which players he barks at during practice. In the spring, he chastised receiver Jahan Dotson, a 2022 first-round pick. But he also pulled him aside and relayed how good he thought Dotson could become. When the offense has a strong series, Bieniemy is the first to greet the players coming off the field while yelling, “Good s—!”
“That’s what you want in a coach, someone who gives you constructive criticism, but when you earn your flowers, he gives them to you,” Dotson said.
“You’ve got to look at it for a bigger purpose. He’s coaching you hard because he believes in you. He wants you to succeed. You’ve got to realize that even when he’s getting on you about something you did wrong, he wants to make sure you get it right so on Sundays you don’t make a fool of yourself.”
Running back Antonio Gibson said the practice tempo has been the biggest adjustment. The team has run more plays in practice than in the past, at a faster pace.
“I haven’t practiced like this since I’ve been in the league,” Gibson said. “That’s probably going to help us in the long run. I feel I’m probably in the best shape I’ve been in a while, a long while, practicing like this.
“Sometimes some people can come off a little more softer, more caring, but sometimes you need somebody to get into you. It just helps you. That shows they really care and at the same time it’s like, ‘Get this done so he ain’t yelling at me.'”
Bieniemy said he’ll tell players why he said something to them in practice.
“They’ve got to understand we’re in a grown man’s business,” he said. “My job is to make sure I do the best job of overcommunicating clearly. When I’m getting on them, it’s not personal. What’s personal is I want us to win. I expect that particular player to be great at all times. I expect that effort to be a standard that’s accepted by all of us. If they don’t reach it, my job is to address it.”