The Vikings are playing better offensively now than they were two years ago when the Giants swooped in and ran off with Pat Shurmur the morning after the magic and miracles ended one step shy of Super Bowl LIII.
So might we expect another downtrodden franchise to pounce upon another Vikings offensive coordinator — Kevin Stefanski — as early as January or, who knows, the first Monday in February?
“I don’t know,” said Gary Kubiak, Stefanski’s unofficial mentor and official Vikings assistant head coach/offensive adviser. “They don’t want to lose him around here, but Kevin’s got a bright future.”
While Kubiak couldn’t predict the year-end market for Stefanski, he did make it clear where he stands in relation to having any interest in re-entering the head coaching rat race that drove him to retire for health reasons after the Broncos’ 2016 season.
“[This season] has not given me the itch” to be a head coach again, Kubiak said. “I had my chance to be the head coach. I really enjoyed it. But I enjoy what I’m doing now.”
Four years after winning the Super Bowl as a head coach, the 58-year-old Kubiak now enjoys tutoring younger coaches in ways he hopes will extend his throwback system into the 2020s and beyond. He cherishes being reunited with his son, Klint, and longtime sidekicks Rick Dennison and Brian Pariani. And he enjoys being both a sounding board for 63-year-old head coach Mike Zimmer and an under-the-radar grunt who gets to go home earlier than the boss.
But what if the Vikings win the Super Bowl and some team douses him with itching powder, a truckload of greenbacks and a head coaching offer? Would he accept?
“That’s not for me anymore,” Kubiak said.
But he does think that’s what “a brilliant future” holds for the 37-year-old Stefanski, an old soul who has coached three positions and learned from Kubiak, Shurmur, Norv Turner and Brad Childress since coming to town as Chilly’s personal gofer back in 2006.
“The key to getting into position to [become a head coach] is calling games … making decisions, handling a meeting room of a bunch of players, being able to get the most out of not only players, but coaches as well,” Kubiak said.
“Kevin’s been exceptional, and this has been a good opportunity this year to do it on a full-time basis. He’s doing a great job with it.”
Stefanski has been an offensive coordinator since replacing the fired John DeFilippo after 13 games a year ago. In 11 games this season, Stefanski’s offense ranks higher than Shurmur’s 2017 offense in scoring (eighth/10th), total yards (ninth/11th), yards per play (fifth/13th), rushing (third/seventh) and red-zone touchdown percentage (fifth/ninth), among other categories.
General Manager Rick Spielman said he likes how the offense has evolved into a unit that can adapt to different situations even while missing key players.
He also noted how the Vikings ran for 153 yards against the Cowboys’ top-five run defense and threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns in Sunday’s frantic second-half comeback win over the Broncos and their top-five pass defense.
“I think Kevin has really grown,” Spielman said.
And why has he grown?
Because, as Spielman said, “Kevin has no ego whatsoever.”
For example, he was, according to Spielman, the first one “to raise his hand” in favor of adding Kubiak to the coaching staff.
“He knows, just like Zim, when you surround yourself with good coaches and you surround yourself with experience like that, it’s only going to make you a better coach,” Spielman said. “I think that type of attitude … tells you that he’s going to learn and eventually end up getting an opportunity down the road someday.”
Zimmer blocked Stefanski from joining Shurmur as Giants offensive coordinator after Stefanski, as quarterbacks coach, helped squeeze the absolute most out of journeyman Case Keenum in 2017. Stefanski handled that like a pro even as Zimmer and Spielman made the monumental mistake of hiring DeFilippo, the proverbial square peg meets round hole.
Stefanski’s patience could pay off quickly. If Kirk Cousins keeps playing the way he has the past seven weeks and the Vikings make another deep playoff run, there will be no holding Stefanski back this time.
“I know Cleveland was very interested in him last year,” Spielman said. “He was under serious consideration for that job. So I know he’s getting recognized around the league for what type of coach he is.”