The Browns didn’t pass on Kevin Stefanski a second time.
Cleveland is hiring the Vikings’ offensive coordinator to be its new coach, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press on Sunday.
Stefanski agreed to accept the position a day after Minnesota was beaten 27-10 by the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC playoffs, according to the person who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the sides have yet to finalize a contract. An official announcement is expected Monday.
The 37-year-old Stefanski nearly became Cleveland’s coach a year ago but finished as a runner-up when the Browns selected Freddie Kitchens, a surprise hire who was fired after a disappointing, drama-filled 6-10 season. Stefanski spent this past season bolstering his varied resume running Minnesota’s offense, and the Browns made sure they didn’t let him get away again.
Stefanski, who had been with the Vikings since 2006, is Cleveland’s 10th full-time coach since the franchise’s expansion rebirth in 1999. He is the sixth coach hired by Browns owner Jimmy Haslam since he bought the team in 2012.
His selection means that no new minority candidates were hired by NFL teams this offseason. Dallas, Carolina, Washington and the Dallas Cowboys also filled vacancies. Of the four hires, only Washington’s Ron Rivera, who previously coached Carolina, is a minority.
Stefanski will inherit a roster that includes plenty of offensive talent with quarterback Baker Mayfield, wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, and running back Nick Chubb. But the Browns didn’t live up to overblown preseason expectations under Kitchens, who was unable to instill discipline and couldn’t tamper nearly endless distractions around the club.
Stefanski’s life has been immersed in sports. His father, Ed, is a longtime NBA executive who currently works as an adviser for the Detroit Pistons.
The Browns chose Stefanski after a detailed two-week search during which they interviewed eight known candidates. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh were believed to be the other finalists.
Stefanski went head to head with Saleh in Saturday’s game, but the 49ers’ defensive dominance didn’t seem to sway Haslam and his search committee, which was led by chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta.
A year ago, DePodesta recommended Stefanski for the Browns’ opening but was overruled by Haslam and then-general manager John Dorsey, who was recently fired. Stefanski was the only candidate to be interviewed by the Browns for the second straight year. He will become the 18th full-time coach in franchise history.
Stefanski worked with Minnesota’s running backs, tight ends and quarterbacks under three head coaches. This will be his first time as a head coach at any level. Quarterback Kirk Cousins developed with Stefanski and that was appealing to the Browns; Mayfield struggled in his second season after breaking the league’s rookie record for touchdown passes in 2018.
Now that they have their coach, the Browns will look to pair him with a new general manager after cutting ties with Dorsey on Dec. 31 after two seasons. Dorsey, who rebuilt Cleveland’s roster, left after refusing to accept a reduced role offered by Haslam.
On Saturday, the Browns requested permission to interview Eagles vice president of football operations Andrew Berry, who spent three years in Cleveland. Berry reportedly favored Stefanski during last year’s coaching search and may now have a chance to work alongside him.
Berry has not yet met with Haslam and there have been no interviews for the GM opening, according to the person familiar with the decision to hire Stefanski.
Stefanski was hired as an assistant to then-Minnesota coach Brad Childress in 2006. He survived both the dismissal of Childress in 2010 and the firing of head coach Leslie Frazier after the 2013 season. In six years on Mike Zimmer’s staff, Stefanski proved to be valuable enough that the team blocked him in 2018 from becoming Pat Shurmur’s offensive coordinator with the New York Giants.
Stefanski was promoted to offensive coordinator for the final three games of 2018 after Zimmer fired John DeFilippo. He had the interim title shed in 2019, helping the Vikings jump from 19th to eighth in points and from 20th to 16th in yards in league rankings. Stefanski drew praise throughout the organization for his eagerness to adjust and work with and integrate new offensive adviser Gary Kubiak’s scheme, while calling plays on a full-time basis for the first time.
Shurmur left his post as Vikings offensive coordinator to coach with the Giants, who fired him fired after two seasons. He’s an obvious candidate to be Stefanski’s offensive coordinator in Cleveland, where he went 9-23 as head coach in 2011-12.
Stefanski was a defensive back for Penn, a team captain in 2004 and won three Ivy League championships during his time with the Quakers.
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