Kevin Stefanski’s rise with the Vikings has taken him from being a coaches assistant in 2006 to offensive coordinator in January at age 37.
One person not surprised about that climb is former Vikings head coach Brad Childress, who hired Stefanski for that first job 13 years ago.
“[Stefanski] had been a training camp intern for us up in Lehigh with the Philadelphia Eagles,” said Childress, who was a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator with the Eagles from 1999-2005. “I knew him as a player at the University of Pennsylvania [where Stefanski was a defensive back], and he impressed me with the way he carried himself during training camp. I made that mental note that if I was to get a job, he was graduating and that I would tap him to come and be my personal assistant because he was a captain at Penn.
“He’s a sharp guy, obviously. His dad and he have been involved in athletics his whole life. I thought you couldn’t find a better guy who is not going to be starry-eyed around athletes.”
Stefanski’s father, Ed, was a former NBA player and executive with the Grizzlies, Raptors, 76ers and Nets, and currently is a senior adviser to Pistons owner Tom Gores.
What were Stefanski’s duties when he worked for Childress?
“Organized schedules, organized training camp and spring camp, the OTAs, and then our whole training camp schedule — we did that line by line by line, so we know every drill,” Childress said. “… Then the biggest communications were when we needed to get together as a staff, or I need you to get this person or I need to talk to that person, he was able to go find those people and communicate with Rick [Spielman, the Vikings’ general manager] and everybody else.
“The steady stream of people that come through to see the head coach — he really had to communicate with everybody in the building — whether it was [Vikings vice president of football operations] Rob Brzezinski or [owners Zygi and Mark Wilf] or the people in the training room or the strength area or the coaches, he did all of that for me.”
Childress learned in the NFL under longtime Eagles and Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, and said he dealt with Stefanski similarly to how Reid helped members of his staff — looking for their interests in the game and assisting with their career development.
One of those assistants was Bears coach Matt Nagy, whose first NFL coaching job was as an Eagles intern under Reid in 2008-09. Childress, who was an assistant with Nagy under Reid with the Chiefs, came out of retirement in February of 2018 to join Nagy and the Bears as an offensive consultant.
“[Stefanski] said he wanted to coach, so I made him an offensive assistant and he did a great job doing that for the years I was there,” Childress said.
Childress said it was unusual for him to hire someone at age 24 and move him quickly up the coaching ladder.
“I never had the opportunity to hire that young,” he said. “He was smart, and he worked hard. Those two things … get you a long way.”
A bigger promotion
The big turning point in Stefanski’s career was when Childress named him assistant quarterbacks coach in 2009. Childress said that decision was based on Stefanski’s clear ability to communicate in one of the toughest coaching rooms.
“Yeah, or I wouldn’t have put him with the quarterbacks,” Childress said. “I mean, you better be sharp in that room because those guys have most of the answers all the time and when they have questions, you need to be able to have answers for them.”
That 2009 club, with Brett Favre at quarterback, went 12-4 and was one of the best in Vikings history. They ranked No. 2 in scoring offense (29.4 points per game) and No. 5 in total offense in the NFL (379.6 yards per game) and made it to the NFC Championship Game, where they lost 31-28 in overtime to the Saints at the Superdome.
Childress said Stefanski assisted offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell put his game plan in place.
“He worked kind of as Darrell Bevell’s right-hand man … with [quarterbacks coach] Kevin Rogers. He actually typed the game plan out, put it on paper, and you have to know what you’re doing. If you put an ‘R’ where they’re supposed to be an ‘L’, someone is going the wrong way,” Childress said.
Did Stefanski have a good relationship with Favre that season?
“If you talked to Favre, he could tell you from back then that [Stefanski] had a bright look in his eye and he was going to be a good coach,” Childress said.
Stefanski will work with former Texans and Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak, who was hired as assistant head coach/offensive advisor in January after Stefanski was promoted from interim offensive coordinator.
“I know Gary … and I have a lot of respect for Gary and the game he brings,” Childress said. “I think he’ll do a fine job of running and throwing.”
He added that this won’t be Stefanski’s final coaching stop.
“He has the potential to be an NFL head coach at any point in time,” Childress said. “I am not surprised he has been interviewed for that, either.”
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