Eric Bieniemy is in his second year as offensive coordinator and running backs coach at Colorado, returning to the Buffalo program for the third time in his football career as he was the first staff hire by new head coach Jon Embree. His hiring was announced the same day as Embree's, on December 6, 2010.
Since coordinator roles came into vogue in the 1960s, he is the first Colorado alum to ever hold the title, either on offense or defense. In addition, he is just the second minority coach to serve in a coordinator capacity for CU, joining Karl Dorrell, who was the offensive coordinator under Rick Neuheisel from 1995-98.
In just his second game calling the plays, CU amassed 582 yards of offense, including tying the second-most passing yards in school history with 474. CU also had another 500-yard game later in the year, netting exactly that amount in a 48-29 win over Arizona, the Buffs' highest-scoring game of the season.
Bieniemy, 43, was an All-American tailback for the Buffs from 1987-90, finishing third in the voting for the 1990 Heisman Trophy, and then returned to begin his collegiate coaching career in 2001, the first of two seasons as running backs coach under then-head coach Gary Barnett. He is the first CU alum to ever serve in the capacity of a coordinator, offense or defense, and just the second minority to do so.
In Bieniemy's first six seasons as a player and coach in Boulder, the Buffaloes were the consensus 1990 national champions and won three conference titles (1989 and 1990 Big 8 and 2001 Big 12).
He returned to his alma mater after coaching the running backs for five seasons with the Minnesota Vikings (2006-10), overseeing one of the most productive rushing units in the National Football League in that span, helping the team win consecutive NFC North Division titles in 2008 and 2009. In those five seasons, the Vikings produced a 1,000-yard rusher each year while his stable of running backs broke the 100-yard mark 31 times in 80 regular season games.
In 2006, he coached Chester Taylor, who rushed for 1,216 yards; the next season, Taylor combined with four-time All-Pro selection Adrian Peterson to form one of the most dynamic duos in the NFL, as the two combined for 2,185 yards (1,341 by Peterson, who was All-Pro as a rookie). That season the Vikings led the NFL in rushing with 2,634 yards and set franchise marks of 5.3 yards per carry and 22 rushing touchdowns.
Peterson set a Vikings record with 1,760 yards in 2008, earning the Bert Bell Award as the Pro Football Player of the Year and was a runner-up in the Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year voting. Peterson then led the NFL with 18 rushing touchdowns in 2009, with 1,383 rushing yards and 1,819 yards from scrimmage. In 2010, Peterson galloped for 1,398 yards and 12 touchdowns, bringing his totals to 5,782 yards and 52 touchdowns under Bieniemy's tutelage.
Bieniemy made the move to the professional ranks after three seasons as the running backs coach at UCLA (2003-05), where he was also the Bruins' recruiting coordinator his last year there. Bieniemy and Embree both left CU for UCLA in January 2003 to join former CU assistant and new UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell's staff. Their best season came in 2005, when the Bruins posted a 10-2 record and finished No. 16 in the final AP poll.
While at UCLA, Bieniemy tutored Maurice Jones-Drew for three seasons, who selected the Bruins over CU after a long and hard recruiting battle. Jones-Drew earned Freshman All-America honors in 2003, rushed for 1,007 yards in 2004 (just the 10th UCLA player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season), and was a consensus All-America selection as a kick returner in 2005, when he averaged 28.5 yards per punt return, a school record and one of the top figures ever recorded nationally.
Bieniemy returned to Colorado in 2000 after his nine-year NFL career and got his first taste of coaching as an assistant at Thomas Jefferson High in Denver that fall while he began work to complete his degree at CU in sociology. He was hired by Barnett as CU's running backs coach on January 22, 2001, contingent on his graduating later that spring, which he achieved in May of 2001. Upon his return, he shined in the classroom, compiling a 3.5 grade point average in his remaining 11 courses he needed to graduate.
In 2001, his first season, CU ranked eighth in the nation in rushing, averaging 228.5 yards per game while CU's tailbacks and fullbacks rushed for 2,620 yards, the most yards out of all the running back positions in the country. Both Chris Brown (946 yards 16 touchdowns) and Bobby Purify (916, 5) flirted with 1,000-yard seasons while Cortlen Johnson added another 567 yards and four scores. Brown capped the regular season with 198 yards and a CU record six touchdowns in CU's 62-36 win over BCS No. 1 Nebraska, and followed it up with 182 yards and three scores in the 39-37 win over Texas in the Big 12 title game.
In 2002, the Buffs ranked sixth in the nation in rushing, and were first again with yards out of the running back positions. Brown was in the Heisman chase most of the year, finishing with 1,744 yards and 18 touchdowns before an ankle injury sidelined him for the final two regular season games, but still earned first-team All-America honors. He coached Brian Calhoun to a pair of 100-yard rushing games in Brown's place. Purify (3,016) and Brown (2,690) rank third and sixth, respectively, on CU's career rushing chart.
Bieniemy's footprints are still all over the CU record book, as he remains the school's all-time leader in rushing yards (3,940), all-purpose yards (4,351) and touchdowns (42), and is still second in scoring (254 points). He was the nation's second leading rusher in 1990 with 1,628 yards and 17 touchdowns, when he finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting behind BYU's Ty Detmer (the winner) and Notre Dame's Raghib Ismail. One of his most memorable games was at Nebraska his senior year, when he overcame five fumbles in the first three quarters to score four fourth quarter touchdowns in leading the Buffs to a 27-12 victory that put CU in the driver's seat for a second straight Big 8 title as well as on the road to the school's first national championship in football.
In 1990, he earned unanimous All-America honors along with guard Joe Garten and linebacker Alfred Williams, the first three players to be named as unanimous selections in CU history. He was a two-time first-team All-Big Eight performer, in 1988 and 1990, and earned the conference's offensive player of the year honor as a senior. As a junior, he was named to CU's prestigious 25-member "All-Century Football Team," the only active player at the time to be selected to the group honoring the first 100 years of Buffalo football.
He was a second-round draft pick of the San Diego Chargers in the 1991 NFL Draft (the 39th player selected overall). He enjoyed a nine-year pro career with three teams: San Diego (1991-94), Cincinnati (1995-98) and Philadelphia (1999). In 142 career games, he rushed for 1,589 yards and 11 touchdowns while catching 146 passes for 1,223 yards. He also returned kickoffs, including one for a touchdown against the New York Giants (at Giants Stadium) when he was with the Bengals. His final year with the Chargers, he played in Super Bowl XXIX as a member of San Diego's AFC champion team.
Bieniemy was born August 15, 1969 in New Orleans. He lettered in football and track at Bishop Amat High School in La Puente, Calif., earning second-team All-America honors in football as a senior when he rushed for 2,002 yards and 30 touchdowns. He is married to the former Mia Maxie and the couple has two sons, Eric III (16) and Elijah (12).
TOP PLAYERS COACHED:All-Americans (3): Chris Brown, Brian Calhoun, Maurice Jones-Drew. All-Big 12/Pac-10 (9): Brown, Calhoun, Brandon Drumm, Cortlen Johnson, Jones-Drew, Chris Markey, Michael Pitre, Bobby Purify, Lawrence Vickers. NFL Players/Draft Picks (5): Brown, Calhoun, Jones-Drew, Drumm, Vickers. NFL All-Pro Performers (3): Jones-Drew, Peterson, Tony Richardson, Vickers (alternate).
RECORD: He has coached in 77 Division I-A games as a full-time coach, owning a record of 44-33 (22-18 at Colorado and 22-15 at UCLA); he has coached in five bowl games (one New Year's Day) and two conference championship games, both at Colorado. Professionally, he coached in 83 National Football League games, including three playoff games, with the Vikings, owning a 43-40 record. The Vikings made two playoff appearances in 2008 (10-6) and 2009 (12-4) winning the NFC North Division both years.