CLEVELAND, OHIO – JANUARY 14: Kevin Stefanski talks to the media after being introduced as the … [+]
Before Browns owner Jimmy Haslam introduced new coach Kevin Stefanski on Tuesday, Haslam recognized Stefanski’s family. Stefanski’s wife, children, siblings and parents attended Stefanski’s introductory press conference.
In recognizing Stefanski’s family, Haslam personified the message the Browns are projecting as they build their new regime: Unity, cohesion, or, as Stefanski put it, a shared vision.
“If we are plowing in the same direction, we got a chance,” Stefanski said. “I think as we sit down and start bringing in some candidates and interviewing general manager candidates – it sounds simple, but let’s all be on the same page. Let’s all know that this thing is about a shared vision. It is not about what Kevin Stefanski wants for the Cleveland Browns. We have a vision of what this is going to look like moving forward, and it is a collective vision.”
Stefanski’s first press conference looked and sounded like it’s supposed to look and sound. Haslam said he and his wife, Dee, chose Stefanski because he relates to them, the players and everyone else in Berea, really. They think he’s smart, comfortable with himself and eager to learn — three characteristics that should make Stefanski a great leader.
Sound familiar? It should. Freddie Kitchens was “a great unifier of men and people,” according to John Dorsey. Hue Jackson was a “great offensive mind” who “understood the AFC North,” according to Jimmy.
You get the point. The Browns should be good at introducing coaches at this point. Stefanski is the fifth Haslams have introduced (sixth, if you count Gregg Williams’ interim stint in 2018). And like the others before him, Stefanski was chosen after searches the Browns deemed thorough (Kitchens), tremendous (Jackson) and teeming with qualified candidates (both).
When asked why this time would be different, Stefanski invoked another Browns introductory press conference staple.
“We are not looking backward, we are looking forward,” Stefanski said. “I hope all of our players know that, too. When they walk in the building, whenever it is in April, we are moving forward. Anything that has happened in the past does not affect our future.I am just confident in the group that we have.”
Ironically, that answer makes him the same as his predecessors. They all knew the Browns’ history and believed they could reverse it. None of them did.
But it’s not like Stefanski could answer another way. The point is not that the new coach is doomed to fail, but that the words spoken in these press conferences don’t carry much weight. We won’t be able to make an accurate judgement about Stefanski’s coaching acumen until he starts coaching.
To that end, Stefanski said he briefly spoke to quarterback Baker Mayfield on Monday. Stefanski is excited to work for Mayfield, and believes “the sky is the limit” for the soon-to-be third-year quarterback. Stefanski called the the Browns’ young nucleus the most attractive part of his new job.
“(We have) some really good young football players, so that is where this job was so attractive to me,” Stefanski said. “Not only do we have the right people in the building, we have the right players in the building.”
Stefanski joins the Browns from a similarly talented Vikings team, where he coached several position groups for 11 years and was the offensive coordinator for three games in 2018 and all of 2019. He coached the quarterbacks when Case Keenum led the Vikings to the NFC Championship game in 2017, and the Vikings ranked 10th in passing DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) in 2019, Stefanski’s first full season as play-caller.
As for whether his new job will entail calling plays, Stefanski is unsure. He’s surveyed other head coaches about that decision and said he will do what’s best for the team, even if that means letting his offensive coordinator call plays.
He’ll also meet with Jimmy Haslam each Monday after games and consult the analytics department on certain in-game decisions, which confirmed reports that leaked after the news of his hiring broke. He will not, however, be required by ownership to show his game plan to the analytics department each week, as other reports suggested.
That’s a relief, but the Browns have still experienced significantly more dysfunction than harmony under the Haslams. They said Tuesday that they believe Stefanski will be their coach for a long time, but they’ve said that before. No coach has lasted three full seasons since they bought the team.
Whether Stefanski can flip that trend remains to be seen. It doesn’t count for much, but he handled himself well during Tuesday’s press conference. He seems unbothered by the Browns’ tumultuous past and preached cohesion, hard work and winning.
The hard part will be following through on his words. That’s still to come.
“This fan base, they are incredible, and they deserve a winner,” he said. “We are going to work tirelessly to deliver that to them.”