Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy addresses the media during an NFL football news conference Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Chiefs will face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 54.
Photo: Charlie Riedel/AP
Photo: Charlie Riedel/AP

Cover 9@9: Bieniemy, Saleh reflect on getting passed over for head coaching jobs 

1. The no-spin zone: Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Selah, who were passed over in the last head-coaching hiring cycle, will pit their units against each other in Super Bowl LIV. 

Both, despite interviewing for several openings, are fine.

“I’m good,” Bieniemy said of his plight.

Saleh said, “You still have to go work and do your job and do the best that you can. If you’re given an opportunity, you do the best you can in that opportunity. If another opportunity arises, great. You continue to grind and continue to do the job that you’re being asked to do.” 

Bieniemy, who played nine seasons in the NFL from 1991-99 for the Chargers, Bengals and Eagles, is running the Chiefs’ potent offense.

“It has been a blessing to have those opportunities to interview,” Bieniemy said. “Not everybody has that opportunity. It was a great process.”

Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce believes Bieniemy would be a fantastic head coach. 

“I think Bieniemy has done wonders for my career both mentally, personally and on the field,” Kelce said. “He’s somebody who can get a group of young men to all come together and fight for one goal. That’s a special talent when you’re talking about leadership and being a head coach.”

Bieniemy has been coaching in the NFL since 2006.   

“Does it feel good to know that my players respect me? Yes, it does,” Bieniemy said. “Because they know the only thing I do is make sure that I can give them the best opportunity to go out there to be the best that they can be. That’s my job as a coach.” 

If Bieniemy doesn’t get an NFL head coaching job, he’s fine. 

“I don’t want everybody to feel that they have to feel sorry for me,” Bieniemy said. “This is not what this is about. I’m in a great place. I coach for the Kansas City Chiefs, and we are playing in the Super Bowl. So, all the other stuff?

“It would’ve been nice to get a head coaching job, but when it’s all said and done with, I’m blessed and fortunate to sit here right here with you guys having this conversation about how we are going to go into this game on Sunday and take care of our business.”

Saleh’s brother survived the Sept. 11 attacks and talking with him changed the course of Saleh’s career. 

“It was tough, talking to my brother and looking at things through his lens and asking him if he had not been able to achieve what he wanted even though he made it,” Saleh said. “What if he didn’t? Was he really doing what he wanted to do? For me, it got me asking myself am I doing what I want to do?

“The answer was no. So, that got me into coaching. That had a profound effect.”

Saleh quit his corporate banking job for Comerica Bank’s world headquarters.

“I just wasn’t happy,” Saleh said. 

He started coaching college, including a one-month stop at Georgia in 2005 as a defensive assistant, and has been in the NFL since 2005. 

San Francisco cornerback Richard Sherman said that Saleh has taken lessons that he’s learned from Pete Carroll, Dan Quinn and Gus Bradley and blended them into the 49ers’ defense.

2. Bieniemy on Reid: Bieniemy is honored to be working with Chiefs coach Andy Reid.  

“I’ve had the opportunity to know coach Reid for a number of years,” Bieniemy said. “He’s been the same person that I played for as a player. He’s a great mentor, he’s a great leader. On top of that he’s a great teacher as well. And how he deals with people, that’s been one of the better things that I’ve learned from him throughout the course of my seven years of working with him.”

Kansas City rookie Mecole Hardman, who played at the University of Georgia, looks ahead to Sunday's big game. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter)

3. Hardman provided Chiefs with a spark: Kansas City wide receiver Mecole Hardman turned in a fine rookie season on his way to the Super Bowl.

“I always dreamed about coming into the NFL,” said Hardman, who played at Georgia, on Monday. “When you have that dream to come true and you reach Super Bowl, you want to win it.” 

Hardman caught 26 of 41 passes thrown his way for 538 yards and six touchdowns. He returned 18 punts for 167 yards and 27 kickoffs for 704 yards, including a 104-yard touchdown. 

Hardman was named to the Pro Football Writers of America’s All-Rookie team as the kickoff returner. 

“Speed, that’s first and foremost,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said of Hardman. “But one thing about Mecole is that’s really unique. Depending on who you draft, where you draft and where they are from, you never really know.”

Hardman fit in quickly with the Chiefs.

“You know you are getting a skill set, but you never really know if it will transfer to the pros,” Veach said. “But from Day 1, Mecole stepped on the field with a lot of confidence. He knows that he belongs.”

The Chiefs selected Hardman in the second round (56th overall) when they weren’t sure if wide receiver Tyreek Hill would be suspended over a domestic situation. 

“You are always wondering,” Veach said. “He’s coming in here. He’s a fast guy from Georgia. But he’s going to be with Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and DeMarcus Robinson. 

“From the first day of OTAs and training camp he was talking trash with those guys and mixing it up. He’s a guy that doesn’t lack for confidence. I think it shows in his play.” 

4. Kittle on social media. 49ers tight end George Kittle is a maven on Instagram.

“I just like posting,” Kittle said. “It’s fun.”

He tries not to get into any debates with his fans.

“My wife takes care of that,” Kittle said. “She argues with some people. It’s pretty funny.”

Chiefs place kicker Harrison Butker, of Decatur and who played at Georgia Tech, talks about his preparation for Super Bowl 54. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

5. Butker repping for Georgia Tech. Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker said he’s ready if the team needs him to win the game with a field goal. He said his range goes back to 65 yards. 

He has made 34 of 38 field-goal attempts this season with a long from 56 yards out.

6. Garland on Falcons. Caught up with former Falcons guard Ben Garland on “Opening Night.” He’s set to start at center for the 49ers. 

Garland, 31, will be making his third Super Bowl appearance. He was also a member of the Denver Broncos for Super Bowl XLVIII (48) in 2014 and the Falcons in Super Bowl LI (51) in 2017.

Here’s what he had to say: 

Q: How was it jumping in there and taking over at the center spot when they needed you?

A: “I got an incredible opportunity to play center. I wish it could have been under better circumstances. Wes (Richburg) is such a good guy. I’m glad I got this opportunity and I’m going to do my best at it.” 

Q: Are you glad you landed with San Francisco after the Falcons didn’t want to re-sign you?

A: “You just feel blessed. You always feel that there is a bigger plan for you. Obviously, I get to be here. What a cool opportunity to go from that (not being re-signed). That was always a disappointment that they didn’t want to sign me, but to come to this organization and be apart it, it’s a real blessing to be here.”

Q: No ill-will for the Falcons? 

A: “I love this opportunity and I’m really glad I got to play for coach (Kyle) Shanahan again.”

VIDEO: NFL great Tony Gonzalez shares his thoughts on the tight ends in Sunday's Super Bowl. Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter.

7. Blank on radio row. Falcons owner Arthur Blank is set to make the rounds on radio row Wednesday. 

He’s set to meet with the AJC. Check back to AJC.com later today for what was discussed.

8. Yacht party. Word is circulating that Blank has invited the players down to a party on his super yacht. 

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has his super yacht here and is having a party for sponsors.

9. Super Bowl LIV prediction: Go with the Chiefs. They simply have too much firepower for the 49ers to handle. 

I keep having visions of Sherman chasing after the speedy Tyreek Hill.  

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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