The Browns on Monday named Kevin Stefanski, the leader of one of the NFL’s most effective and balanced offenses in 2019, the team’s 18th full-time head coach.
Stefanski, 37, comes to Cleveland after his first full season as the offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, who posted a 10-6 regular season record and upset the Saints in last week’s Wild Card round before falling Saturday to the top-seeded 49ers.
“We are thrilled to welcome Kevin as the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns,” Dee and Jimmy Haslam said. “We were looking for a strong leader of this football team, a very bright coach with a high football IQ, who could establish a strong understanding of what he expected of his players, hold them accountable and confidently navigate the challenges and opportunities that present themselves throughout a season. Kevin exemplifies these qualities and more. He has a tremendous ability to relate well and communicate well with his players, has experienced many coaching facets of a team, and understands how to put them in the best position to succeed while also establishing a winning culture. Kevin, Michelle and their family will be tremendous additions to the Cleveland community and we look forward to having him lead our football team.”
Stefanski, who was the seventh of eight candidates to interview for the position and the only repeat candidate from last year’s search, will be introduced in a Tuesday press conference at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“It’s very exciting obviously for me and my family,” Stefanski said. “We’re really looking forward to moving out here and getting situated in Cleveland and the adventure of it all. From my professional level, I just could not be more eager to get to work with this group. I think we have some really good players here. I think we have some outstanding people in this building. I know we have to add a GM and add some more pieces to this puzzle. I think the eager part for me is to get to work, buckle down and start to put together a program. Before you know it, the players are back in the building and we’re going to be putting a system together offensively, defensively, etc. I think that’s the fun part, when these guys get back in this building.”
Stefanski was the longest tenured coach in Minnesota, logging 14 seasons under three different head coaches with the organization. He was elevated from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator in Week 15 of the 2018 season and promptly guided the unit to two of its best showings of the season. In his first full season as coordinator, Stefanski led a unit that ranked eighth in the NFL in scoring offense (25.4 points per game) and sixth in rushing offense (133.3 yards per game).
In his first full year under Stefanski, veteran QB Kirk Cousins set a single-season career high for passer rating with a 107.4 mark, fourth best in the NFL in 2019. Cousins also finished with a career-low six interceptions, while adding 26 touchdowns and a 69.1 completion percentage, fourth in the NFL in 2019. He set a Viking record for completions in a season with 425 and finished with the second-most passing yards (4,298) and passer rating (107.4) in Vikings history.
With 1,135 rushing yards in 2019, RB Dalvin Cook became the eighth player in Vikings history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season and the first since Adrian Peterson in 2015. Despite missing the final two games of the season, Cook finished fourth in the NFL with 13 rushing touchdowns and seventh in scrimmage yards with 1,654. Cook was voted a starter for the NFC in his first career Pro Bowl.
WR Stefon Diggs set a career high with 1,130 receiving yards, giving him back-to-back 1,000-receiving yard seasons for the first time in his career. Diggs finished fourth in the NFL with an average of 17.9 yards per reception in 2019.
A defensive back at Penn, Stefanski joined the Vikings in 2006 after serving as an operations intern with the Eagles. He was an assistant to head coach Brad Childress from 2006-08 before taking over as assistant quarterbacks coach, a role he’d hold for four seasons.
“When I moved out there in 2006, it was never, ‘hey, I’m going to be here for the next 14 years and then I’m going to leave to be the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns.’ That was definitely not the grand plan,” Stefanski said. “My grand plan was just to show up every day and do my job to the best of my ability. That organization holds a special place in my heart. They have great ownership. There’s tremendous people throughout that building starting with the GM, head coach are just really good people. To be able to have been there and grow as a person, grow as a coach is incredible.”
Stefanski was elevated to assistant quarterbacks coach in 2009, allowing him to work alongside quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers and veteran signal-caller Brett Favre. He maintained the position in 2010 and 2011 amid changes at head coach and quarterbacks coach. When Mike Zimmer took over as head coach in 2014, Stefanski transitioned to tight ends coach for two seasons and running backs coach for another before he was back with the quarterbacks in 2017. Despite a change at offensive coordinator from Pat Shurmur to John DeFilippo entering the 2018 season, Stefanski maintained his position before eventually taking over for DeFilippo, who was fired after the team’s Week 14 loss to the Seahawks.
Perhaps Stefanski’s best work came in 2017, when the Vikings were forced to go to their backup, Case Keenum, early in the season after starter Sam Bradford went down with an injury. Keenum, a journeyman backup who had completed 58 percent of his passes and amassed a record of 9-15 at his previous stops, went on to complete nearly 68 percent of his throws with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions while leading the Vikings to a record of 11-3.
“I chased this thing and never knew where it was going to lead,” Stefanski said. “It led through the Vikings and spent great years there, impressionable years for me being able to coach multiple positions and work under different coordinators and different philosophies. I really feel like I grew as a coach there, and they allowed me to grow, which was outstanding. I just kind of chased this thing and here’s where it landed right now. I couldn’t be happier that I’m here to help this franchise.”