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K.C. Chiefs’ Eric Bieniemy ought to be Packers’ first choice as head coach

In the copycat NFL, Andy’s Reid’s offensive coordinators have proved to be winners

Now that the Green Bay Packers have fired head coach Mike McCarthy, Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy should be the leading replacement candidate. Whether he will should tell us a lot about the state of black head-coach hiring in the NFL and how far the league has to go.

McCarthy deserved his fate. Packers fans watched every Sunday this season as McCarthy wasted Aaron Rodgers, arguably the best quarterback ever. McCarthy, who ran the offense and called the plays, shepherded an uncreative unit. Schematically, he rarely fooled defenses, forcing Rodgers to make plays with his magical arm. As USA Today’s Doug Farrar observed, “When he got the job in 2008, McCarthy’s offense was actually among the most multiple and versatile in the league — everything from West Coast Offense concepts to full-house backfields. But over the years, McCarthy has decided to go old-school (read: be schematically lazy) with his route concepts, and Rodgers above all has suffered for it.”

Packers fans, even the quarterback himself, must wonder what Rodgers might look like playing in an exciting offensive scheme. In the Monday Night Football offensive bonanza on Nov. 19 between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Rams, the two quarterbacks treated viewers to a show. Playmakers were schemed open. Safeties and linebackers were put in unwinnable situations. Misdirection fooled defenders into distrusting their eyes, making them slower to the ball.

Quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff, in other words, were lifted by their offenses.

Rodgers would excel in either environment, and the Packers must situate him in a dynamic offense, having invested $100 million guaranteed in him. Hiring Bieniemy, the offensive coordinator for the team that arguably runs the most dynamic offense in the NFL, provides the Packers the surest way to unlock the full potential of a Rodgers-led offense. Quite simply, the Packers need to get the Chiefs’ playbook into his hands and let him cook.

Something favoring Bieniemy’s chances to become a head coach is how much Chiefs head coach Andy Reid trusts him. Reid specifically lauds his attention to detail, telling ESPN’s Adam Teicher, “He doesn’t let one thing slide. … This is him. It’s attention to detail and ‘I’m going to make sure my closet is clean and your closet better be clean, too. If not, I’m going to help you clean it.’ ”

Players speak glowingly about him as well. Mahomes said Bieniemy “does not let me miss any detail of what the play is supposed to do, what the protection is supposed to be and that helps me a ton because when we get to the game everything is a little bit easier.” And although Reid, not Bieniemy, calls the plays in Kansas City, he does help put together the playbook and weekly game plans and he runs the offensive meetings. Equally important, he’s the voice in Mahomes’ headset during the game, telling the quarterback the playcalls.

Additionally, Bieniemy is the next guy in a line. Doug Pederson was Reid’s offensive coordinator from 2013-15. He went on to win Super Bowl LII as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Matt Nagy followed Pederson, holding the offensive coordinator position from 2016-17 until becoming the Chicago Bears’ head coach this year. He has led the Bears to a first-place spot in the NFC North.

This is how the NFL typically hires coaches: In this copycat league, owners want the next guy in line. This thinking impedes black coaches because owners sometimes can’t envision the next version of a white guy being a black guy. But clearly, Bieniemy carries all the markers of the next great success.

How the Packers view him as a candidate will suggest the level of progress the league has achieved in hiring minority coaches, because of all the potential job openings, the Packers job might be the most desirable. The reason is obvious: Rodgers.

Black coaches rarely get jobs coaching elite quarterbacks. Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell and Mike Tomlin might be the only black head coaches to have surefire future Hall of Fame signal-callers, depending upon what you think of the Los Angeles Chargers’ Philip Rivers. Dungy won a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning. Tomlin won one with Ben Roethlisberger. And Caldwell appeared in a Super Bowl with Manning.

Bieniemy has the résumé of a leading head coach candidate, one that should draw attention from the team with the best job to offer. Whether he becomes identified as such will say a lot about head coaching in the NFL. And if he ultimately gets the job, the league can be more confident that its strategy to diversify the head-coaching ranks is working.

Brando Simeo Starkey is an associate editor at Andscape and the author of In Defense of Uncle Tom: Why Blacks Must Police Racial Loyalty. He crawled through a river of books and came out brilliant on the other side.