If you are a fan of the Cleveland Browns, or the NFL in general, you’ll know that seemingly every year, the Browns are starting over in their front office and head coach search.
This year was no different and on Tuesday, January 14, Cleveland announced former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator, Kevin Stefanski as their 12th head coach since returning to the NFL in 1999.
To put that in perspective, before delving into if this was a good hire or not, the rest of the AFC North has had eight head coaches combined in that same time frame.
So is Stefanski the guy to right the ship in Cleveland?
Not a single person has any iota of an idea the answer to that question. As of this moment, it’s purely speculation from anyone. Come September, wins are the only thing that matter. If Cleveland fails to live up to expectations this upcoming season, as was the case this past season, the fans could quickly turn on Stefanski. They just want and deserve a winning football team, something that hasn’t happened much since 1999.
Since 2006, Stefanski has been a part of the Vikings organization in a variety of roles, including running back, tight end and quarterbacks coach. In 2018, he replaced John DeFilippo as offensive coordinator after a Week 14 loss. Minnesota enjoyed success in the first two games with Stefanski calling plays on offense. The Next season, he was the full time offensive coordinator, where the Vikings ranked 8th in points per game (25.4) and rushing (133.3 yards per game.)
That should bode well for the Browns offense in 2020 due to the elite talent at running back and wide receiver, as well as a quarterback with the potential of Baker Mayfield, who has what it takes to thrive in Stefanski’s system. More on the offense later.
How did Stefanski land the gig?
A big part of that was due to Browns chief strategy officer, Paul DePodesta. This time last season, Stefanski was the guy DePodesta wanted to hire, before the Browns and now former general manager John Dorsey ultimately decided to go with Freddie Kitchens. DePodesta was given more input once Dorsey and the Browns parted ways.
DePodesta is known as an analytics guy, as he was successful during the “Moneyball” days of the early 2000’s Oakland Athletics. Analytics is more of a buzzword these days and something DePodesta says every NFL team uses.
Stefanski was able to get the job over the likes of 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who looked like he could be a front runner for the job due to his success with the Patriots and being a Northeast Ohio native. In the end, it was Ivy Leaguer Stefanski (Penn) being paired with fellow Ivy Leaguer DePodesta (Harvard.) Cleveland also went the Ivy League route in hiring a new general manager in Andrew Berry, a Harvard graduate.
Berry returns to Cleveland after spending the 2019 season with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was with Cleveland from 2016-18 as vice president of player personnel. Now Berry, the youngest general manager in the NFL, will have a chance alongside Stefanski and DePodesta to try and turn the Browns around.
The Browns were impressed with Stefanski last season and more so this season when interviewing him. The front office feels like this is a guy that embraces the “shared vision” and can lead this team to what the fan base deserves. Berry also has the same “shared vision” so this appears to be a great front to lead Cleveland.
Time will ultimately tell.
What went wrong in 2019?
Going into the season, after all the moves Cleveland made in the offseason, including acquiring star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., many thought the Browns were playoff bound.
Others, including Fox’s Colin Cowherd, casted doubt on Cleveland from jump street. He was and continues to be highly critical of quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Speaking or Mr. Mayfield, the former No. 1 overall pick, endured a sophomore slump, a year removed from throwing 27 touchdowns, a rookie record. In 2019, his first full year as a starter, Mayfield threw for 3,827 yards, 22 touchdowns, but also 21 interceptions. HE completed less than 60 percent of his passes,
Year 1 Year 2
Baker Mayfield: 3,725 yards, 27 TD, 14 INT // 3,827, 22 TD, 21 INT
Brett Favre: 3,227 yards, 18 TD, 13 INT // 3,303, 19 TD, 24 INT
Now, nobody is saying that Mayfield is the next Brett Favre, but let’s not jump the gun on him being a bust either, especially after one full season as a starter under his belt. Clearly, Mayfield will look to improve his game this offseason and get this team to where he thinks he can take them.
Moving on in the juggernaut offensive weapons, Nick Chubb was second in the NFL in rushing this season with 1,494 yards. In the final game of the season, with the rushing title on the line, Chubb toted the ball a mere 13 times. He would lose the rushing title to Derick Henry of the Tennessee Titans.
Beckham and his best friend Jarvis Landry put up stellar numbers in 2019. However, it seems like quiet numbers and not what we are used to, despite both going over 1,000 receiving yards on the season. Landry finished with a team-high 83 catches for 1,174 yards and six touchdowns. Beckham, for his standards, had a down year despite catching 74 passes for 1,035 yards, but only had four touchdowns.
You would never know it if you watched them play, but both talented receivers were plagued with nagging hip injuries most of the season.
Three players over 1,000 yards sounds like it would be a team with success, but instead it led to a lousy 6-10 record and yet another head coaching change.
A big issue former head coach Freddie Kitchens ran into was not knowing how to get his star players the ball, especially in key moments. Too many times a play would be called where either Beckham, Landry or Chubb were not featured. The play calling seemed to be basic and other coaches and players said it was easy to face a game plan from Kitchens.
The Browns hired Kitchens due in large part how Mayfield played once Kitchens took over the play calling last season. Landry understood the hiring and had this to say on Undisputed with Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe:
“I think it was the right thing to [hire Kitchens],
[with the relationship he had formed with Baker [Mayfield]
. But running a team is a lot more than being personable with one guy and coaching one guy,” Landry said. “Not that he was in over his head or anything like that, but we just couldn’t find a way to get on the same page and figure out what our identity was.”
Moving on to 2020
There is not a single thing any member, past or present, of the Cleveland Browns can change what happened in 2019 as that is impossible. The could’ve, would’ve, should’ve aspect is over and it’s time to focus on 2020 and what lies ahead.
Cleveland will need an upgrade on the offensive line and that can be addressed as this upcoming draft class is littered with offensive linemen that can come in and help keep Mayfield upright. The team will also have some decisions to make on who comes back and who is let to enter free agency. A decision will loom on if running back Kareem Hunt will be brought back, especially after recently getting pulled over for speeding with an open container of vodka and marijuana in his car. Hunt was not cited for either the alcohol or marijuana.
Time is the ultimate factor to determine if the Cleveland Browns finally got it right and can bring winning football to the Dawg Pound. Stefanski could be like many others before him and turn out to be nothing, or he can be the answer with a front office he feels comfortable with. Again, time is the ultimate factor to see if this latest do over is the one that works for Cleveland.