BEREA, Ohio — Newly-appointed Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski held his first press conference on Tuesday afternoon, one day after the team made his hiring official. His comments today, plus a look back at what he did in Minnesota as a Vikings offensive coordinator, position coach and assistant, offers fans an outline of what we can expect from Berea next season.
An improved Baker Mayfield
Under Stefanski, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins found himself playing better and faster, something Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield needs. Cousins was able to get the ball out of his hands quicker and had plays drawn that emphasized his strengths, which led to far fewer interceptions and fewer sacks—a problem Mayfield had to deal with all last season. Cousins finished the regular season with the fourth-best passer rating among the league’s starters (107.4) and threw 26 touchdowns to just six interceptions.
Mayfield had a relatively rough second season compared to his rookie year. Going from breaking Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson’s NFL record for most touchdown passes in a rookie season (27) with just 14 interceptions to struggling to throw 22 touchdowns the following season with 21 interceptions is an unfortunate regression.
With Stefanski’s experience, Mayfield could have a much better season as he enters his third year in the league, and his head coach is excited to work with him.
“I spoke to Baker briefly yesterday. He’s down in Austin, and I caught up with him for just a minute, but he’s the quarterback, he’s the trigger man and that’s the exciting part for me,” Stefanski said. “I’ve worked with a lot of quarterbacks, a lot of great ones over the years, and I’m looking forward to hunkering down with him and getting to work. Like any one of our players, when they walk in the building, we’ll have a detailed plan for them about how they’re going to improve. And Baker, as a young player, the sky is the limit, but we’re going to put in the work to get it done with Baker.”
Stefanski said that he’s watched Mayfield a lot and thinks his mechanics are great, but he believes he can bring in some schematic changes that can help Mayfield’s production.
“The skill set that our quarterback has is legit. He’s as accurate as they come. I think there’s plenty of things that we’ll do schematically to hopefully make life easier on him,” Stefanski said. “I really think this kid has a chance to take off.”
Speaking of schematics, Stefanski helped create an offense in Minnesota that flows almost perfectly. Opponents had a difficult time differentiating between a play-action scheme and a hand-off because Stefanski found a way to make them look identical, and now he’ll bring that ingenuity with him to Cleveland.
“I’m talking about schemes and techniques. We’ll be diligent about working with our players so that they can develop into the best versions of themselves,” Stefanski said.
Stefanski should help create plays keeping the Browns strengths in mind and utilizing the weapons at Mayfield’s disposal.
“I talked to Odell [Beckham Jr.] briefly, with Jarvis [Landry]—the two receivers—and we have running backs—it’s nice to sit here and start to think about how we can attack a defense because you can do it and be multiple,” Stefanski said. “These defenses are so good in the NFL that if you’re one-dimensional, they can kind of pin their ears back so we’ll try to be explosive, obviously, in the run and the pass game, but starting with the players as we start putting our scheme together we’re going to start with our guys and then we’re going to maximize the talents of the key players.”
That should resonate with the players, especially Landry, who made comments at the end of the season about how the players were used.
“I think the biggest thing a lot of times in those games, this year we relied on plays and not players as much, especially from the offensive side of the ball,” Landry said.
He may or may not call plays
One of the biggest gripes fans had with former head coach Freddie Kitchens was his inability to successfully execute as a play-calling head coach. Despite weeks of fans wishing he would hand over play-calling duties to his offensive coordinator, Kitchens called plays through the entire season.
It’s extremely difficult to find success as a head coach who calls plays. Few coaches can do it, fewer can do it well. With Stefanski, it doesn’t appear an ego will fuel his decision. In fact, although he hasn’t decided if he’ll call the plays yet, he doesn’t mind one way or the other.
“As a play-caller, you make a lot of decisions on game day, and you’re making 70 decisions, and you’re going quickly and you’re making quick decisions,” Stefanski said. “I've had really good conversations with a bunch of head coaches—some who have called the plays, some who have not—and I just think we need to work through that as we put our staff together. I'm all about what's best for the Cleveland Browns. If that's me calling the plays, great. If it's not, I'm fine with that, too."
A ‘marriage of the run and pass game’
In the press conference, Stefanski was asked about how he sees the identity of the team, something the Browns struggled with last season, unless you want to count lack of discipline as an identity. Stefanski understands what this division is about and has plans on how to work in it.
“This is the AFC North, so physicality, that aspect of the game, will never be too far from our thoughts,” Stefanski said. “We’re looking to be explosive. If that happens in the run game based on our personnel, that’s terrific. If it’s through the pass game, that’s great, too.”
Stefanski said that he’ll be looking to bring the two together to make the ultimate offense.
“What you’ll hear me talk about a lot is the marriage of the run and the pass game, that’s very important,” the former Penn defensive back said. “When I played I know what that feels like when you have a run that looks like a pass and a pass that look like a run.”
No hype, all work
Almost as if he was a born and raised Clevelander himself, Stefanski spoke to the hearts of many Browns fans when he discussed his expectations for the season.
“I’m not going to stand up here and make any bold predictions about what we’re going to do this year. I’m not going to speak anything into existence right now. I can just promise you that we’re going to work,” Stefanski said. “I’ve spoken to a few of our players already and that’s what I’m about. I’m about working and I’m about putting a foundation together.
Stefanski said his plan includes working on the foundation, the culture of the team, and building from that foundation to make a great football team. Even the big-name players who bring big personalities to the locker room will have to work hard under Stefanski’s leadership.
“I don't mind personality, because I respect guys who work. So personality is welcome, your production is required,” Stefanski said.
Last season, the Browns lacked accountability and discipline. The season started with the team racking up 18 penalties for a loss of 182 yards in the home opener against the Titans. The issues with penalties, missed assignments and botched plays and routes continued throughout the season, and Stefanski said he’s going to change that.
“We’ll have a culture of accountability. We’ll have structures in place. The players will understand our rules and what we’re about, and we’re going to be demanding. We’re going to hold each player accountable,” Stefanski said.
In addition to accountability and structure, Stefanski understands the culture of the team starts with the roots and the former players who have helped contribute to the history of the Browns and who have kept fans loyal with their contributions to the team.
“I have a great, great respect for the alumni of this storied franchise. I pinch myself to think that I’m going to talk to Jim Brown later today,” Stefanski said. “That’s special to me and there’s so many amazing people from this franchise.”
Quotes on T-shirts already
The most Cleveland thing in the world is taking quotes and moments putting them on a T-shirt, and the new coach delivered in his first presser.
Just over an hour after the Browns press conference with Stefanski began, Rotowear released a T-shirt with a comment Stefanski made.
“Personality is welcome, production is required,” Stefanski said about his players, as previously mentioned.
Now that quote will live on forever, printed on a blend of cotton and polyester, boldly displayed on the chests of fans across Cleveland excited to see if their team’s 18th head coach will be the guy who finally can get it right.
Fans are warming to him
Since he was drafted in 2018, Mayfield has had four head coaches, three of them full-time—and he’s only 24.
One of these guys has to work out, right?
Although we’ve heard it more than once before (about the last four hires actually), owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam believe that Stefanski is the right guy.
“We’re highly confident he’ll be our coach for a long time,” Jimmy Haslam said about Stefanski.
Fans on Twitter, where the reaction to his hiring was mixed at best, seemed to warm to him today.
So we’ll all keep our fingers crossed, all the while hopeful that this is the coach, and this will be the year.