April 24, 2024

DeShaun Foster’s first hire has a throwback feel.

The new UCLA football coach is enlisting an old Bruins assistant as his offensive coordinator, finalizing an agreement to bring in Eric Bieniemy nearly two decades after he was the team’s running backs coach and recruiting coordinator.

The move to hire Bieniemy was confirmed Saturday by a person close to the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal was not officially completed. ESPN reported that Bieniemy would receive a two-year contract.

Bieniemy, 54, has spent most of his time since leaving UCLA in the NFL, winning two Super Bowls in five seasons as offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs before flaming out in his only season in the same role with the Washington Commanders.

He will presumably bring a pro-style offense to the Bruins, whose personnel is suited for that scheme because it’s similar to what they ran under former coach Chip Kelly before he left this month to become Ohio State’s offensive coordinator. Bieniemy’s hiring also provides the first clues as to Foster’s stylistic preferences given Foster said he intended to hire someone who shared his football DNA.

While at UCLA, Bieniemy recruited star running back Maurice Jones-Drew, among others, earning a massive raise and the title of recruiting coordinator in addition to his role as running backs coach after then-Texas coach Mack Brown tried to add Bieniemy to his staff. The Bruins also provided assistance from the UCLA/Orthopaedic Hospital Center for Cerebral Palsy for Bieniemy’s then-10-year-old son, Eric Bieniemy III, who suffered from the disorder that impairs motor functioning.

During a 2005 interview with The Times, Bieniemy said the root of strong recruiting was relentlessly building personal relationships.

“It’s all about being aggressive throughout that recruiting process,” said Bieniemy. “It’s all about being seen, also. If we’re doing those things in the right way, any kid in his right mind, if they have the opportunity to go to school here, they wouldn’t turn down that opportunity.

“We know we’re going to lose some battles. But you know what, we’re going to win more battles than we’re going to lose.”

Leaving UCLA before the 2006 season to become running backs coach for the Minnesota Vikings, Bieniemy has spent most of the last two decades in the NFL with the exception of two seasons as offensive coordinator at his alma mater, Colorado. The school offered Bieniemy the head coaching job in 2020, but he declined.

In recent years, Bieniemy has reportedly interviewed for 15 NFL head coaching jobs without landing an offer, making some question his people skills and others lambaste teams for passing him over so many times.

Born in New Orleans, Bieniemy and his family later moved to Southern California and he starred at running back for Bishop Amat High before choosing Colorado over USC.

During his time with Kansas City, Bieniemy combined with coach Andy Reid to devise one of the NFL’s top offenses centered on quarterback Patrick Mahomes. But Bieniemy’s brief stint in Washington, where he was given full play-calling duties, was far rockier, leading to his dismissal earlier this month.

A recent story in the Washington Post described Bieniemy as falling short beyond his role as the architect of an offense that ranked tied for No. 23 in the NFL in scoring. While he was universally praised as hardworking, Bieniemy was known for a stubborn overreliance on throwing the ball and failing to cultivate strong relationships with players.

However, Bieniemy remained so popular in Kansas City that the team received permission to have him speak with players before its appearance in the AFC championship game.

“Just having him back in the building was really cool, listening to him talk, his energy,” Mahomes told reporters earlier this month. “I think guys had a little bit of chill bumps, like, ‘Hey, EB’s back here.’ Obviously, he didn’t get that head coaching opportunity, but I’m excited for him to continue to coach football and to continue to make his impact on the game.”

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