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Eric Bieniemy brings passion, tough love to UCLA football practice field

New UCLA football offensive coordinator and associate head coach Eric Bieniemy walks on Spaulding Field during practice. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Benjamin Royer

April 5, 2024 11:39 a.m.

A triumvirate of ancient Greek philosophers – Aristotle, Plato and Socrates – sculpted the fabric of modern 20th-century teachings.

As thinkers, they’re the crème de la crème. Even classes at UCLA are based on the trio.

But the football field, that’s a different gravy.

“You just need to teach and coach,” said Eric Bieniemy, UCLA football’s newly-minted offensive coordinator and associate head coach.

The gridiron is beyond the wildest imagination of B.C.E. thinkers. And while Plato may have had his “Republic,” a new one is emerging in Westwood.

Almost 20 years removed from his previous tenure as a UCLA assistant coach – where he served as running backs coach and later recruiting coordinator from 2003-2005 – Bieniemy said he’s ready to teach beyond the football field and gameplan installation.

“Teaching and coaching does not change. You still have to do a great job of over-communicating clarity,” he said. “You got to make sure that you’re reaching your guys in the room. It’s never easy, regardless of whether it’s the pros, it’s college or high school, because everybody accepts or retains information differently.”

Across UCLA’s introductory open spring practices, the 54-year-old’s bluntly loud communication style has been obvious.

In third-string 7-on-7 drills Thursday morning, miscommunication between senior quarterback Chase Griffin and redshirt junior running back Anthony Adkins led to Bieniemy shouting at the duo to leave the field.

The snap count misstep would have led to a false start during in-game action.

Sophomore running back T.J. Harden faced the fire on Tuesday during the same drill setup. The tough love and passion from Bieniemy during practice was a far cry from the often-mum Chip Kelly’s coaching style – even directing frustration at fellow coaches for not playing their designated part.

When asked about his firm vocalization, Bieniemy pointed to his relationships with former Bruins from his first tenure in Westwood – Maurice Jones-Drew, Chris Horton, Dennis Keyes, Matthew Slater and Marcedes Lewis. He said personal bonds are at the forefront of his focus.

“You hear me keep referring to them as people – as young men,” Bieniemy said. “And I think sometimes we lose sight of that. It’s always important to connect with the people that you want to work with. Because this isn’t just about football, right? It’s about helping young men to improve themselves to grow in this world and learn how to be successful off the field, as well as being successful on the field.”

Learning is happening slowly but surely, with Tuesday and Thursday practices serving as installation days and Saturdays as review sessions, Bieniemy said.

During 7-on-7s, Bieniemy worked mainly with the quarterbacks, providing plays and instructions for the signal callers to direct to the rest of the offense.

The two-time Super Bowl champion coach commonly referred to spring practice as an “evaluation” period rather than a time for expectations to already be set high. And within the gradually growing scheme, first impressions are paying early internal dividends.

“Yes, (Bieniemy is) very engaged, very engaged for sure,” said senior wide receiver Logan Loya. “It’s just the energy level, and it makes you match it, so it’s awesome. … We’re just in the basics right now, getting our bread and butter down, so it will be crazy to see what’s in the future.”

Although his coaching methodology may remain the same, there’s still plenty he’ll need to adjust to.

Over a decade removed from Bieniemy’s most recent collegiate stint – as Colorado’s offensive coordinator from 2011-2012 – the sport’s landscape has dramatically shifted.

Name, image and likeness are at the forefront of high school and transfer recruitment, UCLA will be in a brand new conference for the 2024 season and coach DeShaun Foster – once someone he watched as a halfback at Tustin High School – is his boss.

But for Bieniemy, the shift from NFL back to college or the modern-day recruiting challenges couldn’t be more on the back burner.

As the sun crept through the clouds and his media session wrapped up, Bieniemy smirked and revealed what being back in Los Angeles meant to him.

“It feels pretty damn good,” he said. “The sun is starting to come out right now, it’s peeking through, and you can’t pick a better place to be than UCLA. I mean, It’s beautiful”

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Benjamin Royer | Assistant Sports editor
Royer is the 2023-2024 Assistant Sports editor on the baseball, gymnastics and men's water polo beats and a reporter on the football beat. He was previously a staff writer on the baseball, football and gymnastics beats. He is also a fourth-year communication student.
Royer is the 2023-2024 Assistant Sports editor on the baseball, gymnastics and men's water polo beats and a reporter on the football beat. He was previously a staff writer on the baseball, football and gymnastics beats. He is also a fourth-year communication student.
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