Eagles Insider

A lost year on a last-place Eagles team made Eric Bieniemy who he is now

Eagles Insider

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – He had 12 carries. He caught two passes. He earned minimum wage. His team finished in last place.

It was the best year of Eric Bieniemy’s life.

The 1999 season was a curious one for the Eagles. It was unknown Andy Reid’s first year as a head coach and Donovan McNabb’s rookie season. The team had won just three games the year before, and Reid had put together a staff of young, unknown assistants.

Expectations were low. Or more accurately, non-existent. 

It was this franchise that Bieniemy signed with for his ninth NFL season.

“I had spent the last four years in Cincinnati, and we weren’t very good,” he said. “They offered me a lot of money to stay, but I just didn’t want to go back there. The Eagles offered me minimum wage, and that’s where I wound up.”

Bieniemy was 33 and winding up a decent if unspectacular career as a receiving back and special teamer, and he figured Philly would be a nice place to finish his career. It turned into so much more.

“It really was an amazing year," Bieniemy recalled Wednesday. "Harbs, Spags, Brad, Pat – all those guys were on Andy’s staff. And Doug, Duce, Al Harris, Mike Caldwell, they were all on the team. It really is incredible looking back at that season.

“You’re talking about so many talented people both on that staff and on that team. Nobody knew at the time we would all become coaches, but that year, it really helped shape me as a coach and a person.”


Harbs is John Harbaugh, Spags is Steve Spagnuolo, Brad is Brad Childress, Pat is Pat Shurmur and along with Ron Rivera, David Culley, Leslie Frazier and Sean McDermott, they all went from Andy Reid’s 1999 unheralded coaching staff to become NFL head coaches, as did Doug Pederson, who was the Eagles’ opening-day quarterback that year.

Duce Staley is the Panthers’ likely next offensive coordinator under Frank Reich, Harris is the Cowboys’ secondary coach, Caldwell is Pederson’s new defensive coordinator in Jacksonville and Bieniemy has been with Reid for 10 years now, first as running backs coach and since 2018 as offensive coordinator.

Add long-time Eagles coaching fixtures Jim Johnson, Rod Dowhower, Juan Castillo and Ted Williams and you have a truly legendary coaching staff.

“It really was the Cradle of the Coaches,” Bieniemy said Wednesday morning at the Chiefs’ Super Bowl hotel. 

“Having that opportunity to sit in those meeting rooms listening to coach Reid, spending time with John Harbaugh, Sean McDermott, coach Spags, all those guys. Learning from Juan Castillo. Playing with Doug, Mike Caldwell and Duce.

“You didn’t know we were all going to be coaches, but you did know there were some smart, intelligent people who loved football and there was so much good information being provided from Andy, and we’re in this great atmosphere for learning about football. We would all just sit around and talk ball.

“We always knew what we were capable of during that time because you knew everybody’s football IQ was very high, but I don’t think anybody thought it would lead to all of us becoming the coaches we’ve become.”

Incredibly, most of these guys have coached in Super Bowls and a bunch of them have rings.

Reid is in his fourth Super Bowl as a head coach and looking for his second ring. Pederson and Harbaugh won Super Bowls as head coaches. Rivera took the Panthers to a Super Bowl with McDermott as his defensive coordinator. Caldwell won a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers, Spagnuolo has won Super Bowls as defensive coordinator with both the Giants and Chiefs, and Castillo won a ring with Harbaugh and the Ravens just months after getting fired by the Eagles.

Also on that 1999 staff was running backs coach Ted Williams, who had recruited Bieniemy out of high school and whose son Dan is currently an offensive assistant on Reid’s staff.

Bieniemy looks over at Williams sitting nearby on a sun-splashed patio of the Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch and adds, “His dad meant so much to me.”

Virtually all those coaches from the 1999 Eagles have been hired by - and hired - other guys from that staff. It would take a giant notebook just to chronicle all the coaching connections over the years among Reid’s former players and coaches. 

It was those connections that got Bieniemy started on his own coaching career.


“After that 1999 season, I had played nine years and I wanted to go back to school (Colorado) and get my degree and I thought I’d coach high school football after that,” Bieniemy said. “After I graduated, I was coaching at UCLA under Karl Dorrell, and Andy kept reaching out, asking me to come back to Philly and be part of the (NFL’s minority coaching) internship program.

“So I spent 2004 and 2005 with the Eagles coaching at OTAs and training camp, and learning from all those guys who were still there, and that really opened up the opportunity for me to coach in the NFL. They all got to see me and know me as a coach and a person.

“Juan Castillo taught me how to break down blitzes. He had a whole plan mapped out for me, and I’d break down the entire season, studying blitzes and learning what to look for. That was huge.

“And Dan’s dad (Williams) would allow me to coach the backs, allowed me to run a few meetings and run some drills, and it gave me a platform.

“And just listening to coach Reid, learning consistency is the key to success, and he’s been one of the most consistent people I’ve ever known. He’s the same person he was in 1999 as he is today in 2023, and those were all valuable lessons that have helped not just myself but I’m sure Doug and Harbs and everybody else who’s worked with Andy.”

In 2000 Bieniemy thought he’d be a high school coach.  A few years later, thanks to Reid and Childress and this remarkable network of coaches who got their start in Philadelphia, he found himself coaching Adrian Peterson the first four years of his Hall of Fame career.

“When Brad got the Vikings job in 2006 he already knew me as a player and what type of hard-working individual he would get, but because of that internship, he knew what kind of coach he would get as well,” he said.

“It’s not just about what you know, it’s about who you know because those people trust you, they can identify with you, they know the type of person they’re getting.”

Bieniemy spent five years in Minnesota, then two years back at Colorado under Jon Embree, who’s now with the Dolphins.

When Embree was fired after the 2012 season and Bieniemy was looking for a job, Reid was building his initial Chiefs staff, and it was a natural fit. 

In his five years as offensive coordinator, the Chiefs have been ranked first in total offense twice – including this year – and never lower than sixth. He’ll coach in his third Super Bowl Sunday when the Chiefs face his former team.

And it all started 23 years ago at the Vet.

“That year, I ended up finding joy and love in the game again,” he said. “If I’d have stayed in Cincinnati and took that money, we wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation. I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be coaching today.  


“Because I came to Philly, I've earned a lifetime of rewards."