Officially introduced Friday in the job he hoped to get a year ago, new Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski vowed to “pull everything apart” in the team’s latest effort to forge an offensive identity.
Stefanski, who called plays for the Vikings’ final three games of last season after the team fired John DeFilippo on Dec. 11, was named the team’s permanent offensive coordinator on Wednesday, following his second interview with the Browns for their head coaching opening on Tuesday.
In his introductory news conference Friday, he downplayed his involvement with the Browns, saying: “I am exactly where I need to be. I am happy to have gone through it. But this is a special opportunity here. It’s a special group that we have. I am excited to get started.”
The 36-year-old Stefanski, who came to the Vikings as part of Brad Childress’ staff in 2006, finally ascended to the Vikings’ top offensive job this week after being passed over in favor of DeFilippo, then blocked from taking the Giants offensive coordinator job, last year. On Friday, he spoke of a “shared vision” with coach Mike Zimmer on offense, deferring questions about the makeup of the offensive staff and the play of the offensive line in 2018 to Zimmer.
“I understand him, he understands me,” Stefanski said. “We understand what gives defenses problems ... we’re going to put together game plans in a system that gives our players the best chance to succeed on either side.”
The Vikings were 2-1 with Stefanski in his interim post, but a 24-10 loss to the Bears to end the regular season also dashed the team’s final hopes to make the playoffs.
Of his three-game stint, Stefanski said: “I wish I could have done better. I wish we could have done better. But it was a good opportunity for me, having never called plays before.”
Zimmer has made clear his desire to run the ball more frequently than the team did in 2018, and Stefanski hewed to that vision in his three weeks as the Vikings interim offensive coordinator. The team ran the ball on 71 of its 131 plays on first and second down in the final three weeks of the season, posting 220 rushing yards in a 41-17 win over the Dolphins on Dec. 16.
“I just know as an offense, not necessarily as an offensive line, as an offense, this is the NFC North, so we’re going to be a physical group,” he said. “Certainly when you talk about the offensive line and defensive line it starts there. That’s kind of going to be our thing moving forward.”
The Vikings, who were ninth in the league in yards and 14th in points at the midway point of the season, finished 20th in yards and 19th in points, as their offensive identity issues metastasized through the second half of the year. As Stefanski took over on Friday, he said the team wasn’t going to “change for the sake of change,” and there figures to be a fair amount of familiarity with the West Coast-based schemes the Vikings have used under Pat Shurmur and DeFilippo.
As he gets to work figuring out what will make the offense better in 2019, though, Stefanski took the long view on Friday.
“What it ends up looking like, I think, remains to be seen,” he said. “I have a pretty good idea of what I want it to look like and what Coach [Zimmer] wants it to look like, but we’re going to work through that process and not skip any steps.”