The Cleveland Browns officially unveiled Kevin Stefanski as head coach on Tuesday.
The 37-year-old Stefanski is the 18th full-time head coach in franchise history and the fifth that co-owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam have hired since buying the Browns in 2012. While only two other head coaches are younger than him - Zac Taylor of the Cincinnati Bengals and Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams - Stefanski bring 14 years of NFL experience to town.
Here are five takeaways from his introductory press conference (all quotes via cleveland.com):
The offensive play calling is open for now
Stefanski took over as offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings with three games remaining in the 2018 season, and continued to call the offensive plays for the Vikings through last Saturday’s playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Just who will be calling the plays when the Browns have the ball remains an open question, however, Stefanski said:
“I think we are going to work through that. I think as we put the staff together, if there is someone that is on staff that I feel gives us the best chance to win - that person will call the plays. It does not have to be me. But I think I want to work through that and see as we put the staff together.
“I have had really good conversations with a bunch of head coaches, some that have called the plays, some that have not. I just think we need to work through that as we put our staff together. Again, I am all about what is best for the Cleveland Browns. If that is me calling the plays, great. If it is not, I am fine with that too.”
We’ve seen head coaches struggle to call plays in Cleveland, most notably Pat Shurmur and Freddie Kitchens. With so much going on during a game - especially for a first-time head coach like Stefanski - finding someone who can handle the offense while he works the big picture would not be the worst of ideas.
Stefanski likes what he sees from quarterback Baker Mayfield
Mayfield struggled in 2019 to replicate his rookie success, when he set a record for touchdown passes by a rookie and fueled hope that the Browns had finally solved the quarterback issue.
Even so, Stefanski appears to know what he has in Mayfield and will work to make his quarterback’s life easier:
“I will just tell you the skillset that our quarterback has is legit. He is as accurate as they come. I think there are plenty of things that we will do schematically to, hopefully, make life easier on him, and looking forward to the jump that this kid will take. He is such a young player and the guys I have been around, when they put their mind to it and they start to grind on this thing and understand the whys and the concepts that we are teaching, I really think this kid has a chance to takeoff.”
Stefanski has worked with a variety of quarterbacks over the years, and most notably was part of a staff that got playoff seasons from Case Keenum and Kirk Cousins, who are nowhere as good as Mayfield.
If Stefanski can do that in Minnesota, there is plenty of reason to believe better days are ahead for Mayfield.
He understands the role of analytics in the NFL
It is hard to believe, but there are still people in Cleveland who cannot - or refuse to - accept that analytics are very much a part of the NFL in 2020.
Thankfully, Stefanski is not one of those people:
“I am looking for any edge we can get on game day and certainly analytics, I know, is another buzzword out there. We are looking to make informed decisions. As a play caller, or whether it be player evaluation, information is power, so we like to have a lot of information that informs our decisions. I think the setup that we have here, and meeting with the guys this morning was incredible. I think we are well on our way where we can provide impactful information to our coaches, to our personnel department that can really help the product in terms of wins and losses.”
It may have gone under a different name, but analytics has been around the NFL for decades. The rest of the league knows, the Browns know, and thankfully the head coach not only knows it, but is ready to use it to the team’s advantage.
About turning in the weekly game plan for review
In the wake of the Browns choosing Stefanski over the other candidates the team interviewed, most notably New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, a couple of “reports” surfaced that Stefanski would have to submit his weekly game plan to the analytics office each Friday for review.
Well, that’s not true, Stefanski said:
“It is not true. I liked that report, that was a good one. It is silly season for that type of stuff and I understand that. To me, analytics, I cannot say it enough, it is a tool. How does it help on game day? Well I would met with some of our people with the Vikings and they would help me understand as we got into this ball game, down and distance wise, field position wise where a coordinator may be more apt to blitz. So really, it is something as a play caller was formulating a plan of attack, you start to take in that information. That really was helpful and I can tell you certain decisions you make, whether it be for protection or when to run certain plays, you have that in mind and you have some information that was able to be gathered by compiling that data. I just think it is another tool when it comes to play calling and personnel. Again, something that the Vikings did, something that I know the Browns do. It just provides more information. We have so much of this information; we have years of it, so let’s use it to our advantage.”
Thank goodness Stefanski put that piece of nonsense to bed early.
Dealing with the big personalities on the team
One of the criticisms that former head coach Freddie Kitchens dealt with last season was the perception that the players were running the show - most notably wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., he of the tinted visor, clown shoes and expensive wrist watch, and Mayfield, for his various activities on social media.
Stefanski took a pragmatic approach to how he will deal with situations like those:
“I do not mind personality, because I respect guys that work. Personality is welcome, your production is required. I understand that like every team that I have ever been on, there are going to be some guys that bring some different personalities, and I welcome that. But in terms of how that is going to go, it is too hard to say in this moment. I think once we get the guys in the building, we will start to build this thing.”
It may not be the type of answer that fans who wanted a “disciplinarian” head coach wanted to hear, but as long as Stefanski holds the players accountable for putting in the work, the rest should take care of itself.
None of this will matter if the Browns and Stefanski struggle once the games start for real. And we’re far beyond worrying about a head coach “winning” his introductory press conference.
But for one day, at least, there is hope that the Browns may have finally got themselves back on the right track.