Eric Bieniemy's recruiting ability wasn't the only factor that landed him the offensive coordinator job at Colorado, but it was a significant piece of his résumé. And he will be able to get right to work using that skill even as he finishes the NFL season with the Minnesota Vikings.
University officials received word from the NCAA on Monday morning that Bieniemy is allowed to participate in recruiting, despite the fact he remains on the coaching staff of an NFL team for the next month.
Julie Manning, CU associate athletic director for compliance, submitted a request to the NCAA over the weekend asking for clarification on whether Bieniemy can be involved in the recruiting process. The organization said as long as he has a letter of offer or a signed employment contract, Bieniemy is free to begin contacting recruits.
Newly hired head coach Jon Embree was asked about Bieniemy's recruiting acumen Monday when the two men were introduced a press conference at Folsom Field. Embree acknowledged that Bieniemy's past success on the recruiting trail made him an attractive candidate as a top assistant coach, not to mention the two men are close friends. He also had a little fun with his buddy.
"That's a rumor. You think he can recruit?" Embree joked. "I don't know who starts these rumors."
Bieniemy said he plans to help as much as he can in recruiting but he also has an obligation to the Vikings organization to help the team finish the season strong. He said he plans to devote the bulk of his attention to his responsibilities there but will likely make phone calls to recruits on behalf of CU.
It doesn't hurt that a significant portion of the end of December is a dead period in which college coaches can't contact recruits. Bieniemy won't miss out on any of the process and the Vikings play three of their final four games between Dec. 20 and Jan. 3, the span of the dead period.
As for the rest of his job, Bieniemy will be charged with completing a task former coach Dan Hawkins and his assistants never quite delivered on. The Buffs improved offensively in 2010 but still went through stretches, particularly on the road, in which they were unable to move the ball and score points.
Hawkins' offenses finished in the bottom third of the Big 12 Conference in almost every area of statistical production in every year he was at Colorado, including this season. The Buffs were 11th in rushing offense, eighth in passing offense, ninth in scoring offense and 10th in total offense, and that was in a year in which most would agree the Buffs were better than the previous season.
Bieniemy said his offense will be based around a dominant, physical running game. He said that doesn't mean the Buffs won't pass or that they won't occasionally use four and five-wide receiver looks. But the heart of the offense will be the offensive line leading the way for ball carriers.
"We're going to do a lot of things that have been done in the NFL," Bieniemy said. "We're going to do a lot of things that have been done at the collegiate level that have been successful. But one thing you're going to see is the established presence of physical play."
Bieniemy is Colorado's all-time leading rusher with 3,940 yards gained during his career that lasted from 1987 to 1990. Tailback Rodney Stewart will have an opportunity to break that record next season if he can produce at the same level that allowed him to rush for more than 1,300 yards this fall. Bieniemy said he wouldn't mind seeing his record fall.
"Records are made to be broken," Bieniemy said. "... I have no problem with that. That would be great for him."
Peterson credits Bieniemy
Minnesota All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson issued a statement Monday about the relationship he has built with Bieniemy during the first four years of his career.
“EB has helped me so much over the past four years." Peterson said. "He helped me grow as a player and as a man and has been important to me off the field as much as on it. He brings tremendous passion and his background as a player makes you listen to him close. He wants the best for all his players and treats everyone equally. Going to Colorado is a great opportunity for him and I know how strongly he feels about Colorado. They’re getting a great coach who is going to help them return to the glory days they had when he was a player there.”
Kiesau's future uncertain
While there is no doubt Bieniemy will serve as offensive coordinator going forward, there is some doubt about what role, if any, former offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau will play in the future.
Kiesau, who has worked as offensive coordinator the past two years and served as wide receivers coach the three previous seasons, is under contract through next season and would have to be bought out of the final year of his deal before the school can finalize Bieniemy's contract. Colorado state institutions are allowed a maximum of six multi-year deals at one time.
Embree is supposed to name his coaching staff in the coming days and it's possible Kiesau could remain with CU as quarterbacks coach under Bieniemy. It's also possible that Kiesau just remains with the program through the recruiting season before agreeing to a separation agreement in February or March that would allow him to work elsewhere next season.