ASHBURN, Va. — The Washington Commanders fired offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy after one season with the team, coach Dan Quinn said during his introductory news conference.
Bieniemy was considered a long shot to return, but the move became official when Washington hired Kliff Kingsbury as offensive coordinator Sunday night. Quinn said he delivered the news to Bieniemy in person Monday.
“We won’t work together here,” Quinn said, “[but] I wanted him to know I really respect the work he’s done. I wish him nothing but the best.”
Bieniemy joined Ron Rivera’s staff last offseason following a five-year run as the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive coordinator that featured two Super Bowl championships.
In Washington, multiple sources said players chafed under Bieniemy’s leadership, but, more than that, the offense continued a years-long struggle. The Commanders ranked 25th in scoring and 24th in yards. They were worse in both areas compared to the previous season.
But in 2023 Washington also started quarterback Sam Howell, who entered with just one start the year before as a rookie. The Commanders also had a revamped offensive line that wasn’t considered a strength, which team officials privately acknowledged.
However, one team source said late in the year, the issues were compounded by Bieniemy’s desire to throw the ball — Washington led the league with 636 pass attempts this season.
Not that the offensive struggles were new: Washington has now ranked 20th or worse in both yards and points for six consecutive seasons.
Enter Kingsbury. Quinn coached against Kingsbury when he was a defensive coordinator at Florida in 2012 and the latter was the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M. The Gators won 20-17. They later met at an awards show and, Quinn said, “hit it off.”
Quinn said he hired Kingsbury for the same reason he hired Kyle Shanahan for a similar position with the Atlanta Falcons in 2015.
“He was hard to go against,” Quinn said. “He would stretch the field horizontally and vertically, and going against Kliff, those same feelings you had: This is going to be tough, matchup formation, speed shots down the field, aggressiveness, boldness. As a coach you were writing down some names, this is something in your future, if I get that shot, this is somebody I would want to talk to.
“I know people talk about his acumen with quarterbacks and that’s proven. But he’s also an excellent coach, not just the guy who’s got to be with the quarterbacks the whole time.”
Washington owns the No. 2 pick in the draft and is widely expected to select a quarterback; Kingsbury would have a key role in developing the player.
The Commanders also hired Joe Whitt Jr. to be Quinn’s defensive coordinator. Quinn said Whitt will call the defensive signals. Whitt spent one year with Quinn in Atlanta and the past three with him in Dallas, serving as his pass game coordinator.
“Just seeing the detail, the connection, the play style,” Quinn said. “To play good defense you’d better be a good tackling team, you’d better take the ball away. Those are two things the units he was charged with have been excellent at over the last three years.”
The Dallas Cowboys led the NFL with 93 takeaways combined the past three seasons.
For Quinn, Washington represents a second chance. He spent five full seasons with Atlanta before getting fired five games into his sixth year. The Falcons reached the Super Bowl in his second season, jumping to a 28-3 lead vs. the New England Patriots — only to lose in overtime.
Ever since he left Atlanta, Quinn said he kept repeating five words: “If I get another shot.” He said there were lessons learned that he wants to apply.
“Once you learn those lessons,” he said, “all you want to do is grab them and run and prove it. Let me tell you, I’m ready to run and prove it.
“I wanted to find potential blind spots … trying to take on too much at times. I’m a much stronger coach today than when I took over years back in Atlanta.”
General manager Adam Peters, hired last month, will be the top football executive, allowing Quinn to focus on coaching. Quinn said he learned to delegate more as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator the past three years. And Quinn wants Whitt to call plays so he can oversee the team rather than focus on one side of the ball.
That’s what Washington’s front office and ownership want as well. Peters said they didn’t hire Quinn to just improve the defense.
“He’s unquestionably one of the best leaders in the NFL,” Peters said. “You can ask anybody who’s been around him, coaches, players, he’s a top-notch communicator, an excellent teacher and developer, not only the players but coaches, and he’s smart, he’s driven … he’s going to lead this team the right way.”