The Cleveland Browns were the last NFL team to hire a new head coach, and while they had their pick of everyone remaining, they went with a choice that not a lot of people saw coming.
The Browns passed on the projected favorite in New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and chose to hire the Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski instead.
NFL Network (via ESPN) reports that the Browns will bring in the Vikings offensive coordinator to replace Freddie Kitchens, who they fired after just one season in charge.
Cleveland Browns 2019 struggles
Kitchens replaced Hue Jackson, who had one of the worst records in NFL history as a head coach, finishing 3-36 in his three seasons with the Browns after going 8-8 in one season with the Oakland Raiders.
Browns are planning to hire Vikings’ OC Kevin Stefanski, as @RapSheet reported.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 12, 2020
This past season, the Browns were a popular choice to make the playoffs with second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield and some massive offensive weapons in Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, and Kareem Hunt.
Despite those weapons, Kitchens led his Browns to a 6-10 record, one less win than the season before he took over as head coach.
The Minnesota Vikings made it to the playoffs this year but ended up losing to the San Francisco 49ers, 27-10, in the divisional round.
Who is Kevin Stefanski?
Kevin Stefanski has only worked for the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL.
He joined the Vikings in 2006 as the Assistant to the Head Coach (Brad Childress at the time). In 2009, he started working with quarterbacks and over the next seven seasons also worked with the tight ends and running backs.
In 2017, Minnesota promoted him to the position of Quarterbacks Coach and then made him interim offensive coordinator in 2018 after they fired John DeFilippo.
The hire of Kevin Stefanski is not a home run, and Browns’ fans will have to wait and see what he brings to the team.
2019 was his only full season as the Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator. The Vikings ranked 16th in the NFL in total offense in 2019, 23rd in passing offense (one spot behind the Cleveland Browns) and sixth in rushing offense.
He was able to get the most out of running back Devin Cook, who finished with 1,135 yards rushing. That is great news for Nick Chubb in 2020.
However, there were complaints through the season that the Vikings were misusing their amazing wide receiver tandem of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.
One season after Thielen broke out, he finished 2019 with only 30 receptions for 418 yards. While he missed six games due to injury, that is still only an average of three catches a game.
Meanwhile, Stefon Diggs made it clear he wanted to leave Minnesota due to them ignoring him in their offensive plan before his production picked up late in the season. He finished with 63 receptions for 1,130 yards. At an average of only four receptions a game, he at least made it worth it in the end.
With Odell Beckham Jr. very outspoken and Jarvis Landry a big-time weapon, the Browns receivers are very similar to those in Minnesota, but that doesn’t mean Stefanski will be the right man if the Browns want to keep those two stars.
In 2016, Paul DePodesta wrote Jimmy Haslam a Hail Mary email arguing against Hue Jackson and in favor of Sean McDermott. In 2019, DePo wanted Kevin Stefanski but John Dorsey “flexed my muscles and got what I wanted,” with Kitchens. Today, DePodesta finally gets his guy. Godspeed.
— Seth Wickersham (@SethWickersham) January 12, 2020
Sean Payton said the Browns front office will determine Stefanski’s success
However, during the ESPN Postseason NFL Countdown roundtable, Matt Hasselbeck admitted that Kevin Stefanski has a strong reputation with quarterbacks and that could help Baker Mayfield take his next step to greatness.
“This hire is not a good hire. It is a great hire,” Rex Ryan said. “This is a young superstar that we are going to see … the next Sean Payton? We will find out.”
New Orleans Saints’ head coach Sean Payton, who was a guest on the show, said he was a little more guarded about the hire, saying it is big news but it is always news at this time of the year.
“They’re hiring somebody, we’re getting excited, we’re talking about the new acquisitions, and then all of a sudden, its a reboot,” Payton said. “Hopefully the new GM they get there, the people in charge of football ops, are able to get a little time to build a team because otherwise, what is this, five or six [head coaches in Cleveland] now in the last seven or eight years?”
Last weekend, Stefanski and his Minnesota Vikings outplayed the Sean Payton led New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card round, beating them 26-20. In that game, Kirk Cousins threw for more yards than Drew Brees and Davin Cook alone outrushed Taysom Hill, Alvin Kamara, and Latavius Murray combined.
Now that the Cleveland Browns have hired their next head coach in Stefanski, they will start looking for a new general manager. The goal will be to find someone who can work well alongside Stefanski.
The Cleveland Browns have not made it to the playoffs in 17 years and haven’t won a division title since 1989, both the longest current streaks in the NFL.