As the expiration of Kevin Stefanski’s contract meant he was free to talk to other teams Tuesday, the Vikings interim offensive coordinator remained a candidate for one of the NFL’s more intriguing head coaching jobs.
League sources told the Star Tribune that Stefanski was headed to Cleveland for a second interview for the Browns’ head coaching position, as the 36-year-old emerged as one of the finalists. Sources said the Browns already had asked Stefanski who he would include on his coaching staff, should he get the job and be entrusted with the development of quarterback Baker Mayfield, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner and the top pick in the 2018 draft.
Stefanski first interviewed for the Browns job on Thursday, and did well enough to merit a second interview this week. Cleveland.com reported that Browns offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens could be the front-runner for the job, but Stefanski’s interview had continued as scheduled Tuesday.
Stefanski, who took over play-calling duties with three weeks left in the season after the team fired John DeFilippo, remains a leading candidate for the Vikings’ offensive coordinator job, but after his contract with the Vikings expired Tuesday, a league source said Stefanski planned to consider his other options. In addition to the Browns job, Stefanski could attract interest from other teams. The Browns are one of five AFC teams still looking for a head coach, and after the Packers, Cardinals and Buccaneers hired offensive-minded coaches this week, the flurry of moves could create a handful of offensive coordinator openings around the league.
A source told the Star Tribune on Monday the Vikings were also considering former Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter, but the Falcons announced Tuesday they had hired Koetter as their offensive coordinator and also selected Mike Mularkey — whose name had come up in reports about the Vikings’ coordinator job — as their tight ends coach. If Stefanski accepts a job elsewhere and the Vikings hire their fifth coordinator in four years, they’ll have to sell candidates on the merits of the job with coach Mike Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman both headed into the final years of their contracts.
Stefanski, who has been with the Vikings since 2006, is the longest-tenured assistant coach on the team’s staff. He first interviewed for the Vikings’ coordinator position last year, and was thought to be the favorite until the team hired DeFilippo. After doing so, the Vikings blocked Stefanski from joining Pat Shurmur in New York and becoming the Giants’ offensive coordinator, keeping him as their quarterbacks coach before promoting him in the wake of DeFilippo’s dismissal Dec. 11.
The Vikings ran for 220 yards in a 41-17 victory over the Dolphins in Stefanski’s first game as a play-caller, but got off to slow starts in a 27-9 Dec. 23 win in Detroit and a 24-10 Dec. 30 loss to the Bears that cost them a playoff spot. In his postseason news conference Jan. 3, Zimmer praised the job Stefanski had done in DeFilippo’s stead.
“I thought he did a good job for the three weeks that we were in a tough situation that we had to do,” Zimmer said. “It’s fair to the organization, to myself, to the fans, that we look at everybody.”
The status of special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, whose contract was also set to expire Tuesday, remained unknown.
While Zimmer sorts out the openings on his coaching staff, his son will get a chance to work with some of the top draft prospects in the 2019 class. The NFL announced Tuesday that Vikings linebackers coach Adam Zimmer will lead the West team in the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Jan. 19.