MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — In the aftermath of the biggest victory of their professional coaching careers, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy locked eyes with the team’s head coach, Andy Reid.
This was Sunday, shortly after the Chiefs’ stunning 31-20 come-from-behind win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, and as the two stood on the stage in the middle of the field of Hard Rock Stadium, confetti all around them, the two quickly embraced in a moment that Bieniemy later described as surreal.
“How about this,” Reid told Bieniemy with a grin.
And it was right then, at that moment, that Bieniemy, 50, could tell exactly how much the victory meant to the old coach.
“We just had a moment, a 90-second moment,” Bieniemy told Yahoo Sports. “It was one of those moments where we could exhale and say, man … what a hell of a feeling.”
It should be. Bieniemy was as happy as anyone for Reid, who — after seven conference title game appearances — finally got over the championship hump.
“I had a lump in my throat, a few tears in my eyes, I’m not gonna lie,” Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub, a longtime friend of Reid’s, told Yahoo Sports. “It’s the years man, it’s the years. He works his ass off. He’s never gonna say it, but it’s a big thing that lifted off him — a big monkey off his back.”
But in pro football, a rising tide often lifts all boats, and on a personal level, it’s not hard to see how Reid’s win is also a win for his entire coaching tree — including Bieniemy, Toub and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, along with the legacy of beloved coach Jim Johnson.
Chiefs assistants stand to benefit, too
The last two years have been a whirlwind for Bieniemy, as he was elevated to his current position when the previous offensive coordinator, Matt Nagy, was hired to be the Chicago Bears’ head coach before the 2018 season.
Bieniemy’s rise has coincided with the ascension of quarterback Patrick Mahomes to a superstar stratosphere, and although he’s been interviewed for seven job openings — and failed to land any of them — it’s difficult to imagine that after Sunday’s win, a head coaching opportunity won’t be coming his way eventually, especially considering the respect he already commands across the league.
“I know Eric Bieniemy well — he’s been a mentor to me, and I think he’s a good person, a really detailed coach,” 49ers special teams coach Richard Hightower Jr. told Yahoo Sports before the Super Bowl. “He’s got a huge track record and I pull for E.B. — not this week, but I pull for him.
“I think that E.B.’s going to get his shot, and when he gets his shot, I think he’ll do a great job. E.B.’s the man.”
But Bieniemy, true to form, preferred to keep the focus on Reid after the win.
“I’m just happy for him, just knowing everything that he has gone through,” Bieniemy told Yahoo Sports. “I can’t say enough about how happy and excited I am for him.”
Bieniemy is far from the only Chiefs assistant who figures to get a boost from the win. Take his special teams cohort, Dave Toub, for instance. Toub, 57, has long been regarded as one of the NFL’s best special teams coaches, someone who has even interviewed for head coaching jobs along the way. But he had never won a Super Bowl title, at least until now. A Super Bowl championship looks great on his resume too, especially with the door potentially reopening for special teams coordinators to earn head coaching positions. That trend picked back up when the New York Giants opted to hire a former special teams coach, Joe Judge, to lead the team.
“Toub’s a hell of a coach too,” Hightower said.
A boosted legacy for DC Spagnuolo
From a historical perspective, perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the Super Bowl win on the Chiefs assistant coaching staff is Spagnuolo. He earned his second Super Bowl title as a defensive coordinator only two years after he was not retained as the Giants’ defensive coordinator by then-new coach Pat Shurmur.
“I’m just so happy for both of them,” former Reid assistant Brad Childress told Yahoo Sports, referring to Reid and Spagnuolo. “With Spags being out of football last year, a whole 365 days, it makes a big difference. And I think it’s a great story from the standpoint of where he started there. I can remember some of the naysayers saying this looks like the same defense it was last year … but if you watch them play the last 6, 7 or 8 weeks of the year, you end up saying ‘Geez, these guys are pretty good, these guys shut out a couple people.’ It really shows you how he’s able to lead that group of men.
“He’s a great consensus builder, and from what I understand in talking to Andy, [he’s] jumping in the middle of drills and being hands-on — that’s Spags.”
And for his efforts in leading a defense that ranked 31st in total defense in 2018 (and could never get a stop when it mattered) to a 17th-ranked finish in 2019 (while becoming one of the most clutch units in football) — Spagnuolo’s legacy will now get an appropriate boost, not that Spagnuolo is terribly concerned about that.
”I was very, very blessed that Andy brought me to Philadelphia in 1999, and then I went to New York, and it's been great,” said Spagnuolo, who won his first Super Bowl ring with the Giants in 2008. “I've had a great journey, ups and downs, but to be able to come back and reunite with Andy has been really special. I had a vision way back when we were in Philadelphia that we'd win a Super Bowl together … and now we did."
Those who know both men couldn’t be happier to see their reunification lead to so much success.
“It’s fun to see Andy have the people around him that, maybe, were part of what launched his 20-year career, people that were there at the beginning,” ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, a front-office executive with Reid in Philadelphia, told Yahoo Sports. “It’s neat to see that offensively and defensively, he’s got it right where he wants to right now.”
A blast from the past
The fact that Spagnuolo once coached under famed defensive coordinator Jim Johnson — who guided Reid’s defense in Philadelphia in 2004, when Reid last got to the Super Bowl — only adds to the positive vibes currently flowing within the Reid coaching tree, by the way.
Johnson, who was known for his aggressive defensive scheming, spent 1999 to 2008 as Reid’s defensive coordinator before he died of cancer in 2009 at the age of 68.
“We all, offensive and defensive coaches, had a great deal of respect for Jim when we were in Philadelphia all those years ... I happened to be there eight [years], and Jim had a great influence on me,” Spagnuolo told Yahoo Sports on Sunday. “All of us moved on and changed things and tweaked a little bit, but probably a lot of the foundation has a lot of Jim Johnson in it. Jim is dear to all our hearts.”
And don’t think the fact Reid finally made it back to the Super Bowl with a Johnson disciple was lost on any of his former staffers, either.
“A lot of what Spags has done in his career has really stemmed from [Jim], and I think having a coach that worked under Jim and [for him to] be back in the championship game, it’s pretty cool to see that,” Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson, a Reid assistant in Kansas City from 2013 to 2015.
Additionally, Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy noted that the Chiefs’ defense was one of the most aggressive they played all year long — another fitting nod to the legacy of Johnson, who never won a Super Bowl.
“It’s awesome — I have a lot of respect for Coach Spag, and I was with Coach Johnson for a little bit in Philadelphia and just heard so much about him, how brilliant he was, how aggressive he was,” Nagy told Yahoo Sports. “And to have somebody else that’s a part of Coach Reid’s family tree be his defensive coordinator now — and Spags is such a great guy — it’s pretty cool.”
So yes, the good vibes abounded in Reid’s coaching tree, even prior to the victory.
So when the Chiefs finished the job Sunday, it allowed everyone involved to soak it all in … hence the satisfaction that came Bieniemy’s memorable 90-second moment with Reid right after the win.
“It’s a surreal moment just to be a part of this,” Bieniemy told Yahoo Sports. “We’re Super Bowl champs, bro.”
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