Detroit Lions coaching search: Eric Bieniemy earns more praise, lawmakers back Robert Saleh

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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A group of Michigan state lawmakers threw their support behind one candidate with local ties to be the next Detroit Lions coach Friday, while one of the Lions’ chief rivals offered high praise for another.

Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy said Friday that Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy will make “a really, really good head football coach” for some team, probably this offseason.

Bieniemy was passed over for several jobs last hiring cycle as his Chiefs won the Super Bowl.

He’s expected to draw interest from the Lions, Houston Texans and others when he’s able to be interviewed again next month.

NFL teams cannot interview coaches employed by another team until after the regular season.

“The one thing about Coach Bieniemy is that he demands ultimate respect from his players,” Nagy said. “No. 1, he’s been there as a player. No. 2, he’s an excellent teacher. And he’s a teacher that can lead.”

Bieniemy interviewed for head coaching positions with the New York Giants, Carolina Panthers and Cleveland Browns last season, but was not offered any jobs.

The Giants plucked New England Patriots special teams coordinator Joe Judge from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, the Panthers went the college route, hiring Baylor’s Matt Rhule, and the Browns picked Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Ed Stefanski over San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

Saleh, a Dearborn native, has generated plenty of local buzz as a potential replacement for Matt Patricia, who was fired along with general manager Bob Quinn last week.

On Friday, Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D-Dearborn) sent a letter to Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp from a bipartisan group of 36 Michigan legislators, applauding the team’s firing of Patricia and Quinn and recommending Saleh as the next head coach.

“We understand the difficulty of these upcoming decisions,” Hammoud wrote. “As passionate and loyal Lions fans, we are asking you to hire Robert Saleh as the head coach of our team. He is the best candidate for the job and measures as such across every metric. A head coach like Robert can bring tremendous energy and heart to the franchise and would help us reach peaks that have seemed unobtainable for so long.”

Saleh and Bieniemy squared off in the Super Bowl LIV in February, with Bieniemy’s Chiefs beating Saleh’s 49ers, 31-20.

Bieniemy does not call offensive plays in Kansas City, but Nagy, a former Chiefs assistant who worked with Bieniemy in 2013-17, said his background having worked for Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has him prepared for a top job.

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“You have a guy like that, that has instant credibility, he’s been learning from one of the greatest coaches to ever coach in NFL history,” Nagy said. “And so you take all that and you tie it together, you have the personality that he has and you know that he’s going to be a really, really good head football coach.”

Saleh, who does call defensive plays in San Francisco, was lauded by cornerback Richard Sherman after the 49ers’ 23-20 win over the Los Angeles Rams. The 49ers, despite major injury issues, are 5-6 and rank in the top 11 in scoring, passing, rushing and total defense.

“I don’t think he’s getting enough credit, not only here but in the league in general,” Sherman said. “He’s not making any excuses, he’s making great plans week in and week out, and we’re making it happen. I expect him to be a head coach next year because of what he’s able to do. He’s able to rally men, he’s a leader of men, and that goes a long way.”

In his letter to Hamp, Hammoud cited Sherman’s comments and called Saleh “a hometown hero.”

“To turn the corner and become a winning franchise, these next hiring decisions are critical,” Hammoud wrote. “We hope that you will consider Robert Saleh as the head coach, not only for us, but for everyone across the loyal fanbase of our beloved Detroit Lions.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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