The Cleveland Browns finally ended a thorough interview process and plan to name former Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski to be their head coach, CBS Sports NFL insider Jason La Canfora has confirmed. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network was first to report the Stefanski hiring.
Stefanski, 37, was the other finalist a year ago when Freddie Kitchens was hired. He returned to Minnesota to serve as offensive coordinator. Each of his 14 seasons coaching professional football have been spent with the Vikings. He replaced John DeFilippo as interim offensive coordinator during the 2018 season before assuming the full-time role during the offseason.
The Philadelphia native led the Vikings and their offense to a 10-6 record with a win over the New Orleans Saints during the Wild-Card round. The Vikings were middle of the road in yards produced this season but finished No. 8 in points per game (25.4).
Stefanski is the third youngest head coach in the NFL behind Sean McVay and Zac Taylor.
Cleveland entered the 2019 regular season with large expectations but those were met quickly with a harsh reality. The 43-13 Week 1 loss to the Tennessee Titans was only a glimpse of the struggles with which the team would be faced. First year head coach Freddie Kitchens, who was hired after half a season of coordinator experience, was in over his head leading a team with some big, young personalities. A lack of discipline, both on and off the field, would become synonymous with the consistently downtrodden franchise. After an inner battle and some self-reflection, the franchise parted ways with not only Kitchens, but general manager John Dorsey as well. The team was back in the head coaching market less than a year after naming the Alabama native the 17th head coach — excluding interims — in franchise history on Jan. 12, 2019.
When the coaching search began, owner Jimmy Haslam explained the characteristics that would weigh heavily in their decision.
“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. On the GM, it is really not a whole lot different. The leadership piece is a little different than the head coach, but I would say the other attributes are the same.”
The AFC North franchise is amidst a playoff drought that dates back to 2002.
Stefanski will now walk into a facility loaded with talent. Offensive guard Joel Bitonio, defensive end Myles Garrett, wide receiver Jarvis Landry, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., cornerback Denzel Ward, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson running back Nick Chubb and running back Kareem Hunt have all been selected to at least one Pro Bowl in their respective careers. Inside linebacker Joe Schobert has also received Pro Bowl recognition but is tentatively scheduled to become a free agent.
The Browns publicly acknowledged that Stefanski, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, who has since been hired as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, were interviewed for the role.
Cleveland intends to involve Stefanski in their general manager search, which could lean favorably to Vikings assistant GM George Paton or Eagles VP Andrew Berry. ESPN’s Adam Schefter also reports that Cleveland has since requested permission to interview Berry for their GM position.
The Browns were the only AFC head coaching job to come available and the final of five to close. The New York Giants, Washington Redskins, Carolina Panthers and Cowboys previously hired Joe Judge, Ron Rivera, Matt Rhule and McCarthy respectively.