Bruce Kluckhohn / Associated Press**********
For most of the years and change that the Cleveland Browns have been back in theNFL, not much has gone right. There have been bad personnel decisions, wasted draft picks and too many losses to count — including an 0 – (season in
The campaign was supposed to be different. With their most talented roster since the late 1980 s, the Browns were a trendy playoff pick under first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens. But instead of a postseason run, the Browns were a sloppy, undisciplined mess of a team that went 6 – 13. After just one season at the helm, Kitchens was sent packing — as was general manager John Dorsey.
After embarking on an exhaustive search that included interviews with veteran head coaches, longtime assistants with head coaching experience and up-and-coming young coordinators, the Browns selected the th head coach in franchise history — and the fifth hiring since Jimmy Haslam took control of the franchise in .
But while Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski is a bright and well-regarded young offensive mind, hiring the -year-old feels more than a little like the Kitchens hire — a risky movethat’s more likely to blow up in its face than succeedby a team desperate to reverse its lagging fortunes.
Stefanski, who took over as the of fensive coordinator in Minnesota when John DeFilippo was fired during the 2020 season, was a finalist for the Browns job a year ago. But while chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta and then-vice president of player personnel Andrew Berryreportedlyfavored Stefanski, Dorsey overruled them and hired Kitchens, who served as the team’s interim OC after Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were canned.
We know how the Kitchens tenure worked out.
Rey Del Rio / Getty Images
Now DePodesta has his man, and in fairness, Stefanski’s Vikings were formidable offensively in (****************************************. The Vikes were a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of yardage, but Minnesota was a top – team in both rushing and scoring offense en route to a – 6 record, wild-card berth and playoff win over the New Orleans Saints.
In November, Vikings assistant head coach / offensive adviser Gary Kubiak said that Stefanski deserved plenty of credit for Minnesota’s offensive success in (*****************************************.
“Kevin’s got a brilliant future,” Kubiak. said, viaMary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. “The key to getting in position to [be a head coach] is calling games, calling defenses, calling offenses, making decisions, handling a meeting room of a bunch of players, being able to get the most out of not only players, but coaches as well . Kevin’s been exceptional and this is a great opportunity for him this year to do it on a full-time basis. He’s doing a great job with it. “
Stefanski will Reported to be involved in the Browns search for a new general manager, with Berry (now the vice president of football operations for the Philadelphia Eagles) and Vikings assistant GM George Patonbelieved to beleading candidates.
The Browns are attempting to build a continuity of thinking between coach, general manager and DePodesta — a continuity that was lacking with Kitchens and Dorsey in town. PerJosh Edwards and Tyler Sullivan of CBS Sports
, that continuity was a big factor in what Haslam was looking for in his next head coach.
“Players want leadership. They really do want strong leadership. We are looking for a strong leader, one; someone who is smart, two; has really good football acumen, three; and then will work within the organization – it is not my way or the highway and will work within the organization for the best result. I also think we want somebody who is a continuous learner and somebody who is trying to get better all the time. I would say those are the four or five characteristics .
DePodesta and Stefanski are both Ivy League educated and proponents of analytics — as is Berry. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. But DePodesta’s prominent role in the organization creates an odd power structure, and it’s not known if Berry is even interested in his first job as a GM being one where someone’s looking over his shoulder.
That’s an issue for another day, though. This day is all about Stefanski.
Some will point to Saturday’s face-plant by the Vikings offense in San Francisco as a cause for concern. They’re right — to an extent . It’s not Stefanski’s fault that the Vikings were absolutely mauled up front, unless he’s moonlighting as an offensive guard. But he can be held accountable for Minnesota’s lack of ability to adjust in the game. Minnesota was either unwilling on unable to adapt to wh at the 49 ers were doing defensively, and the results weren’t pretty.
That points to a bigger issue with Stefanski . He does have a full season as a coordinator under his belt that Kitchens did not, but one full season is all he’s got. The Browns could have hired a coach with much more experience in that regard in Josh McDaniels, but the team balked (according to Albert Breer of The MMQB
) at how McDaniels wanted the organization structured. Cleveland interviewed former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, but while it was busy being thorough in its search, McCarthy took the head job in Dallas.
.Adam Bettcher / Getty Images McCarthy has won a Super Bowl. McDaniels has head coaching experience and six rings from his time with the New England Patriots. Both would have likely injected a desperately needed jolt of discipline into the Browns locker room.
Maybe Stefanski will do that too. But it’s hardly guaranteed. And that’s the biggest problem. The beleaguered fanbase in Cleveland needed a reason to believe that this time would be different than the last time. And the time before that. And the time before that. Something to point to as a reason for optimism. Something to cling to besides blind hope.
Instead, the Browns hired an unproven, first-time head coach in Stefanski. They are all but certainly going to pair him with an unproven first-time general manager. And then have them work with a guy who spent two years as a general manger (years ago — in baseball.
All so the franchise can cling to the notion that the way the team is doing things hasn’t been the problem since Haslam bought the team — just the people doing it.
Perhaps this time will be different. With any luck, Stefanski will at least avoid the pitfall Kitchens fell into of calling his own plays. With a bit more, he’ll realize that delegation is a head coach’s best friend and add some experienced assistants, whether it’s someone like Kubiak on offense or the recently fired Wade Phillips on defense.
But Stefanski is a lot closer to being a reach than a sure thing.
And in Cleveland, reaches very rarely work out.