Sometimes, you just believe something and want to share it with the world. That is the reason this piece has “op-ed” included in the title because it is a strong opinion and nothing more.
The Cleveland Browns have the second-best head coach in the AFC North with Kevin Stefanski.
If your belief is all that defines a coach is wins and losses, this article isn’t for you. Honestly, the goal isn’t even to convince anyone of anything. Instead, to share a belief/opinion and why I have it.
First, it is important to note that my statement does not mean I think Stefanski is a great coach. I think he is a good to very good coach.
Second, John Harbaugh has proved to me that he is a great coach and the best in the division. Not only does his teams win but Harbaugh has coached the Baltimore Ravens with a variety of styles of play, varying roster issues and through a ton of injury concerns.
Third, Mike Tomlin is a great leader of players and gets the most out of his teams when they lack talent. We will remember Duck Hodges for a long time because Tomlin made things work with a quarterback that hasn’t been heard from again.
While Tomlin is a great leader, he’s a good coach. Game management, X’s & O’s and his insistence on keeping OC Matt Canada have held the team back more than almost anything.
(Note: This article was started before the Pittsburgh Steelers loss on Thursday Night Football but delayed following to gather more opinions.)
I’m not alone in my concerns related to Tomlin. A couple of media (who I know are also Steelers fans) and a former Pittsburgh player have concerns:
Ryan Clark - Former Steeler:
Ryan Clark on Mike Tomlin:— Matthew Luciow (@matthewluciow92) December 8, 2023
"Mike T's loyalty to Matt Canada throughout this season throughout the offseason. His approach to always promoting within is a large reason why he’s here.His approach to sticking with things too long is a large reason why you’re here.”#steelers… pic.twitter.com/5rWRWpzOlN
Jarrett Bailey - Behind the Steel Curtain/Steelers fan:
I’m tired of hearing about how great a coach Mike Tomlin is. Beat the Cardinals and the Patriots. Can’t even do that. The shine is gone.— Jarrett Bailey (@JBaileyNFL) December 8, 2023
Neal Coolong - SI/Founder of USA Today’s NFL Wire sites/Steelers fan:
I no longer think Tomlin survives this.— Neal Coolong (@NealCoolong) December 8, 2023
Even star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (whom Browns fans will never forgive) had some words to say about the culture of the team:
Tomlin not being near the top of the list of AFC North coaches despite being a great leader might be a bigger shock to many than placing Stefanski second in the conference.
Fourth, Zac Taylor has found a way to make life difficult with Joe Burrow to start the last few seasons despite a loaded roster on offense. Watching a ton of Cincinnati Bengals games, Burrow and DC Lou Amarillo often have to bail out Taylor with audibles on offense and amazing schemes on defense.
Taylor may be an okay head coach but, so far, has proven nothing more despite being the most recent AFC North coach to make the Super Bowl.
That leaves us with Stefanski.
While we will never know how much say the head coach had in quarterback decisions, Stefanski’s offense has led to career years from Baker Mayfield and Jacoby Brissett. He did similar work with Kirk Cousins. This year, Cleveland is 7-5 despite starting four different quarterbacks who have all struggled in different ways.
Fans generally have two knocks on Stefanski: DC Joe Woods and specific play calls during the game.
With Woods, it is important to note that Cleveland’s defense was ranked 17th, 8th and 16th, respectively, during his three seasons as defensive coordinator. It felt much worse as the unit seemed to implode randomly and at the most important times during the game.
While I don’t always agree with Stefanski's individual play calls, his offenses often have players running wide-open and tend to make the most of his players’ skill sets. His use of trick plays or “trying to be the smartest guy in the room” don’t always work but they have opened things up later in the game by showing that same formation/motion but running a different play.
Finally, Stefanski is steady. While fans and media might hate not getting fun sound bytes or curse words from the head coach, players appreciate his leadership style. He does everything he can to not throw players under the bus, even ones like Odell Beckham Jr. and Jadeveon Clowney who have done the opposite.
Players appreciate that they know what they are going to get from their head coach and that he has their back.
And it shows.
This season, the Browns have shown very little quit despite being down multiple scores early in the game a couple of times and having issues at quarterback.
Two coaching moves this offseason also give an indication about how Cleveland’s headman is seen in those circles. The Browns were able to hire Jim Schwartz, a defensive legend, and Bubba Ventrone, an up-and-coming/soon-to-be head coach. Schwartz had a cushy gig with the Tennessee Titans while Ventrone could have picked his spot this offseason.
Both chose to join Stefanski in Cleveland.
Jared’s AFC North Coaches Ranking
- Ravens John Harbaugh
- Browns Kevin Stefanski
- Steelers Mike Tomlin
- Bengals Zac Taylor
Just one man’s opinion, what is yours? Join our comment section below to share your thoughts with our DBN community