If Commanders players have an issue with Eric Bieniemy, it seems like a them problem

Let's see if we understand this: Players from a Washington Commanders offense that last year averaged just 18.9 points per game, put up 12 or fewer points in five of its games, and that finished in the bottom third in the NFL in pretty much every statistical category are upset that new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is too intense?

Players from a Commanders franchise that has been to the playoffs once in the past seven years and hasn't posted a record over .500 since 2015 have complaints about the approach of a coordinator who has been to the Super Bowl three out of the past four seasons and oversaw a unit that was top-six or better on offense each of the past four years?

The new offensive coordinator who had a guiding hand in developing the best quarterback in the league and possibly one of the best ever?

Is this a story from The Onion?

Because, really — what do those Commanders players expect from their coaches?

Look, there's a lot about football culture that needs to be changed, and we've seen some of those changes. Yes, concussions are incredibly dangerous and shouldn't be ignored and suffering one shouldn't jeopardize a player's status on the roster. Yes, some if not all players should address their mental health as intensely as they work on their physical health and be encouraged to do so.

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But Bieniemy seems to be a great coach: someone who pushes you to be your very best and to pay attention to every detail, and then offers the loudest cheers when you succeed. Especially in the NFL, it is those details that can make the biggest difference.

Commanders head coach Ron Rivera touched off quite the debate on Tuesday when he responded to a question from the Washington Post's Nicki Jhabvala about how players are responding to Bieniemy, whom Rivera hired to be OC and assistant head coach after he held the coordinating for the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

It's fair to ask why Rivera aired this particular basket of laundry. The first thought was that perhaps it was to send a message to the players and/or embarrass them a bit for being "a little concerned," as Rivera said, with Bieniemy's approach. But then on Wednesday, after what he thought was an innocuous comment became the NFL story of the day, Rivera was walking things back, reading from a prepared statement.

"As I've said many times since I hired Eric, I love the overall message he gave to the team his first day, and that was basically, 'We gotta learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable.' For those guys on that side of the ball, things are uncomfortable; there's been a lot of change, and the entire way of doing things has changed," Rivera said. "I've always encouraged our players to have great dialogue and build relationships with our staff. Since those conversations took place with Eric and the players, I've seen the improvements."

Eric Bieniemy spent the past few seasons helping Patrick Mahomes become the NFL's best quarterback and the Chiefs contend for Super Bowls. If there's a problem with how Washington's offense is being coached, it probably doesn't lie with him. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

He went on to say that he'd spoken to Bieniemy, particularly since Rivera also seemed to compare Bieniemy's approach to Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio's, noting that Del Rio's prior experience as a head coach is something Bieniemy doesn't have.

“I basically told him I put my foot in my mouth,” Rivera said. “I think what I said wasn’t as clear as it needed to be. I think everybody is making, in my opinion, a little more than needs to be made of this."

That alone is surprising from a man who has been around the league for decades and a head coach for 13 years now. Bieniemy has been a hot topic for a while, mostly because he is arguably the most high-profile, head-scratching example of team owners' disinterest in hiring Black head coaches. Rivera revealing that some of Bieniemy's new charges are unhappy with how he's coaching them basically guaranteed that the Commanders would dominate the news cycle.

From this standpoint, it certainly seems like if players do have an issue, it's a them problem and not a Bieniemy problem. Patrick Mahomes — you know, the quarterback that at just 27 has two Super Bowl wins and two MVP trophies — has noted multiple times the influence Bieniemy has had on him as a player and a person, and his former boss, Andy Reid, has sung his praises. After word spread of Rivera's comments, Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill, who played under Bieniemy for four of his six seasons with Kansas City, said on the social media site X, formerly Twitter, "Man, there is no coach that has your back like EB!! Take that coaching and get better we all been through [it]'s tough but I promise you it will make you better."

Jhabvala noted on Tuesday that during training camp practices Bieniemy has been "very loud, very intense," but also yelling "great job!" and praising players when they get things right.

His past results alone should speak for themselves, but this is far from the first time Bieniemy, who has interviewed for head coach openings with nearly half of the 32 teams in the league, has been doubted, which may be why he took things in stride when talking to reporters this week.

"Yes, I am intense ... but I'm always upfront and I'm always honest," he said. "I'm always going to be loud and I'm always going to be vocal. I'm always going to demand from our leaders. I want our guys to clearly understand that we're not taking anything for granted.

"I'm going to be their biggest and harshest critic, but also understand, I'm going to be their No. 1 fan because I support them at all times."

Bieniemy's approach might be new and uncomfortable to some Commanders players, but that's exactly the point. The old ways certainly weren't working.