Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who started in 2006 under Brad Childress and is the team’s longest tenured assistant, will be head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
The 37-year-old Stefanski gets his first chance as an NFL head coach after his second round of interviews for the Browns’ job, which went to Freddie Kitchens last season. A full year as Vikings coordinator, calling an eighth-ranked scoring attack, completed Stefanski’s ascension from Brett Favre’s assistant quarterbacks coach to Browns head coach a decade later.
“He’s a great leader,” receiver Adam Thielen said Sunday. “I have so much respect for him and the way he carries out his life, his business. I’m obviously thankful for his support and everything he’s done for me over the years since he’s been here — since I’ve been here. Happy for him.”
The Vikings will be looking for a fifth offensive coordinator in five years, a run that started with Norv Turner’s resignation in 2016 and includes two head-coaching promotions in Pat Shurmur and Stefanski.
Stefanski might not be the only coordinator the Vikings will be replacing. Multiple outlets Sunday night reported George Edwards is not expected back after six seasons as defensive coordinator. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is scheduled for a news conference Monday morning.
“It’s part of the NFL,” Thielen said. “Usually when you have a good offense, you’re probably going to have a new change because he’s probably going to get a head coaching job. I think I’ll be going on my sixth offensive coordinator in eight years.”
Praised for his demeanor and detail, Stefanski survived through two head-coaching changes in 14 Vikings seasons while leading nearly every position on offense. His titles have included coaching quarterbacks, running backs and tight ends. The Philadelphia native, who is the son of Detroit Pistons executive Ed Stefanski, now faces his first professional change of address with his wife, Michelle, and their three children.
Before kickoff of Saturday’s 27-10 NFC Divisional round playoff loss in San Francisco, Stefanski’s final Vikings game, he walked the field and shook hands with players and coaches. “Everything happened so fast” afterward, according to Thielen, who said Stefanski did not formally address the team before coaches conducted exit interviews on Sunday.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better offensive coordinator this first year,” center Garrett Bradbury said. “He’s been super approachable as a coach. Coming in as a rookie, the OC — you kind of think there’s this distance, but he’s been an awesome guy with and without football.”
Stefanski’s time as offensive coordinator lasted 21 games, during which the Vikings averaged 24.8 points per game.
“Through the good times and the bad times, he’s the same guy,” Thielen said. “He’s not going to throw anybody under the bus. He’s going to take ownership and do whatever it takes to put you in the best position as an offense.”
The other finalist for the Browns job was 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. A third finalist, former NFL head coach and current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, interviewed Friday for several hours but wanted to have major input into the team’s hiring of a general manager, cleveland.com reported, and owner Jimmy Haslam balked at that request.