The Browns started Friday morning with a buzz about the team. Josh McDaniels was on his way on the Haslams private jet, and his wife was coming with him. Well, if he was bringing his wife, which most candidates don’t do for an interview, the feeling was an announcement was coming by the end of business. The Browns would crown Josh McDaniels the next savior of the franchise.
Then Friday came and went, and no crowning had taken place. The Browns coaching search committee was taking the weekend to make the decision. Clearly, something had kept them from hiring McDaniels after seven hours of talks. Whatever happened in that interview led to the hire of new Browns head coach, and Paul DePodesta’s favorite, Kevin Stefanski.
The simple answer is analytics. Jimmy Haslam has been sold on analytics by DePodesta, and Stefanski was Paul’s guy last year and this year. As said earlier, there is more information than we will ever know about the McDaniels interview, but we are here now. This hire is more proof that Paul DePodesta has the power in this organization. All you have to do is go back to the Haslam’s end of the year presser to see why McDaniels is out and Stefanski is in. Haslam stressed the entire football side working together in unison from the “data” side down to the head coach. Does anyone believe that Josh McDaniels will surrender any bit of power to anyone he didn’t put in place? My guess would be no and the rumors are out there.
All we heard is that Jimmy was setting this thing up for the power to fall to the coach. What we got was a hire that further showed the power is with Paul DePodesta. Stefanski is a first-time head coach without the pedigree that a coordinator like McDaniels has, or the experience like a former head coach provides. The idea is he would be more willing to concede to some of the other departments, can you say analytics. If real, is this what a team wants in their head coach?
Do you want the guy willing to be told what to do? A person who has to send the gameplan to analytics for approval? Yes, that is out there. Maybe I am wrong, and Stefanski is a guy that can work to mold everything together as the leader. But what have the Browns done in any hire under Haslam that points to that? Putting all the questions and power struggles aside let’s take a look at our new head coach’s resume.
Kevin Stefanski got his start as an assistant to the head coach in 2006 with the Vikings. He spent two years in that position then moved to coach the Vikings quarterbacks as assistant quarterbacks coach from 2009-2013. He later coached the Vikings tight ends for two seasons, followed by a season of coaching the running backs. In 2017 he was made the quarterbacks’ coach helping Pat Shurmer coax Case Keenum to a career year. Pat Shurmur’s work got him the head job with the Giants.
The Vikings then hired John DeFilippo as the offensive coordinator. Stefanski stayed on as quarterbacks coach to new 84 million dollar man Kirk Cousins. The Vikings offense underperformed most of the season, leading to DeFilippo’s dismissal before seasons end. Stefanski was then named interim offensive coordinator for the final three games of the season. The offseason saw the Browns interview and nearly hire him as the head coach for 2019 before setting on Freddie Kitchens. Mike Zimmer then made him the full-time offensive coordinator for 2019.
Vikings 2019 Offense
After being hired as offensive coordinator, Stefanski is rumored to have had a hand in getting Gary Kubiak on board. Kubiak was brought on as assistant head coach and offensive advisor. If Stefanski was a part of this move, it shows some promise in him as a head coach. He was willing to add a great offensive mind that ran an offense his quarterback was comfortable running. Cousins had spent time under both Mike and Kyle Shanahan when he was with the Redskins. Kubiak derives his offensive system based on the Shanahan system. The Vikings offense ranked eighth overall in scoring led by a sixth-ranked rushing attack.
With Kubiak and Stefanski running things, Kirk Cousins provided the most efficient season of his career. He completed 69.1% of his passes along with a career-high 107.4 passer rating. Cousins also threw a career-low, in a full season, six interceptions while still producing 26 touchdowns. All in all, last season may qualify as Kirk Cousins’s best all-around year of his career.
The work Stefanski did with the Vikings running attack was part Dalvin Cook part perfect system. The finally healthy, mostly, Cook was able to put up over 1100 on the ground along with 13 touchdowns. He was also used in the passing game to the tune of 53 receptions for another 519 yards. Dalvin is a talented player when healthy, and Stefanski used that talent to the best of his abilities. That is something that Browns fans asked of Kitchens the entire season. The analytics likely said the same thing, and the Browns hope that is how this will mesh. Think of what Stefanski could do with Nick Chubb and possibly Kareem Hunt.
What Stefanski can do for the Browns.
Stefanski brings a mix of the old school, Shanahan system, but the willingness to use new school data. The second half of that statement is based on the fact the Browns analytics team hired him. Also, the fact he is known to be deep into analytics. Is this the football guy that is willing to listen to the “data” guys? The idea behind this is to get the most information out of every decision made. Freddie Kitchens and Dorsey scoffed at this info, Stefanski is a guy that embraces it. While the old school thinking has it’s place if you can optimize it by placing players in the most successful situations using data, then why wouldn’t you?
What does this mean for the team’s skill players? Well, if Baker Mayfield is most successful in 12 personnel based on the data, then Stefanski will game plan accordingly. If the data points to Baker being better rolling out and throwing that will be integrated. Nick Chubb should receive a more consistent amount of carries throughout a game to better impact the game. Odell and Jarvis, among others, will run routes that they excel in. All of this adds up to create efficiency within the offense. Stefanski did this in Minnesota and will have the talent to do the same in Cleveland. While Stefanski embraces all of this, the questions will come when asked to manage the locker room.
Will Stefanski be able to garner respect? Will he be able to manage personalities? Issues with discipline permeated the team all of 2019, and that doesn’t get corrected by a spreadsheet. The coach has to be able to motivate, along with holding the players accountable. Can Stefanski do this? That is something no one will know until they are on the field. Once again, Browns’ fans are left to hope this will happen. The same question that seems to start every year is back yet this year. Can this group finally turn this team into a winner? That is something the “data” or the “football guys” will not be able to tell you.
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