UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – Paton should tap Eric Bieniemy to lead Broncos

The search for the next Red Miller/Dan Reeves/Mike Shanahan/Gary Kubiak has begun. As required by the National Football League, Broncos general manager George Paton has requested of several teams that are in the playoffs permission to speak to assistant coaches on their staffs.

The list of prospects to become Denver’s next head football coach is at least 10-names long. And, reading the summaries of why any of these candidates is on the list, it’s an impressive array of talent.

But which one can lead the Broncos back to the Promised Land of Super Bowl victory?

Nathaniel Hackett, Brian Callahan, Kellen Moore or Jarod Mayo—who all are high on the up-and-coming assistants list? Or Jonathan Gannon, Luke Getsy, Kevin O’Connell or Aaron Glenn—also popular, though unproven?

If you’re into someone with previous head coaching experience, how about Dan Quinn, who, many believe, is the odds-on favorite because, in different years with different teams, he was a Super Bowl assistant and head coach? 

My nominee—also one of the 10 to be interviewed but unavailable until Kansas City is no longer in the playoffs— is former CU All-America running back Eric Bieniemy. And it’s not just because of his past local ties, which include two stints as an assistant coach for the Buffs.

Here are several reasons why Bieniemy might be the answer:

  1. He has learned from one of the best coaches in the NFL, Andy Reid.
  2. He has coached a team that has won a Super Bowl.
  3. He’s also played on a collegiate national champion, antd for another great coaching mind in Bill McCartney.
  4. He has coached against the teams Denver must beat to return to prominence—the Chargers and Raiders of the AFC West (not to mention having a little inside knowledge on how to beat the Chiefs).
  5. He has helped develop Patrick Mahomes to his dynamic full potential and the Chiefs’ offense to its explosive best.
  6. Since 2018, when Bieniemy became offensive coordinator, the Chiefs have had won-lost records of 12-4, 12-4, 14-2 and 12-5, with Mahomes and Hill at the top of their list of threats.)
  7.  Teams frequently sign a player from the next opponent, just to get any inside scoop they can. So, why not hire a coach from the team that has beaten you 13 straight times?

There’s another reason, too, one that relates to the just-completed season that was Vic Fangio’s demise.

K.J. Hamler.

The Broncos made Hamler their second-round draft pick in 2020 out of Penn State, with visions of a Tyreek Hill-type game-breaker. Hill is the jitterbug who ignites Kansas City’s offense (479 receptions for 6,630 yards and 56 touchdowns in six seasons, plus 93 rushes for 719 yards and six TDs).

Hamler showed flashes of Hill’s electricity in his first season, and in the first three games of 2021. Then he tore an ACL and was lost for the season. I think his loss is a big reason why the Broncos were so anemic on offense (and went from 3-0 to 7-10). Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick and Jerry Jeudy are above-average receivers, but without Hamler, it was harder for them to get open. Opponents didn’t have to worry about the threat Hamler posed with his speed.

Consider what John Elway told Peter King of NBC Sports after drafting Hamler:

“He had a 100-yard kick return against Michigan, and so we just figured we’d time him (in a 40-yard interval) on that play. We timed him at 3.93 in the 40, but of course he had a running start.

“He just has a different speed than anyone else. This has become such a speed game. Watch Kansas City.

“We love Courtland, we love Jeudy. Get Hamler in the slot against quarters coverage, releasing upfield at 4.3 or 4.32 speed, and that’s going to put a lot of pressure on safeties. I know that.”

It seems logical that the coach who has gotten so much out of Tyreek Hill might be the one to exploit Hamler’s similar potential.

GM Paton has said that his top priority in hiring the next head coach is finding a leader. Here’s what Andy Reid said about that a year ago when Bieniemy had numerous interviews for head coaching vacancies but never landed the job.

“ . . . At the risk of being redundant, I have not seen many guys that are as great a leader as he is of men. And in this business, that’s huge.

“You’re never going to have to worry about Eric Bieniemy, never—on the field, off the field. He’s going to be honest with you and straightforward . . . to be a head coach, if you’re going to survive in this business, you better be honest with the people you deal with and you better have a plan for them.

“Guys want to know where they’re at and where they’re going . . . and when they don’t have that in place, then they drift. And that’s where teams fall apart. 

“So, he knows how to do that part and do it well.” 

It has been reported that the Minnesota Vikings—George Paton’s former employer—have Bieniemy at the top of their list. What a shame it would be if he winds up in Minneapolis instead of Denver.

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 13 books, seven of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.