Next Browns Hire Must Support Kevin Stefanski
The Cleveland Browns have found their head coach for the future signing Kevin Stefanski to a five-year contract. Stefanski was the offensive coordinator for an explosive Minnesota Vikings offense this season. The move brings another offensive coordinator with no head coaching experience to the forefront of the Cleveland Browns.
Last year, the team took an enormous risk by naming Freddie Kitchens as the head coach. The decision did not work as anticipated and the Cleveland Browns were searching for another coach a year later. This time around the organization cannot afford to make the same mistakes with Kevin Stefanski as they made with Freddie Kitchens.
Issues that plagued the team this season included undisciplined play, poor clock management, a scheme not based on talent, and situational play calling. Freddie Kitchens is the primary blame for majority of these issues, and they are all fixable with an extensive plan. A highly impactful factor for the team’s poor performance was Kitchens lack of experience and surplus of responsibilities. In order for Kevin Stefanski to have more success, he must have support to make better informed decisions.
During his introductory press conference Kevin Stefanksi said, “I’m about putting a foundation together. We will be methodical about it. We will not skip steps two and three to get to step four. We’re going to start in the foundation and then we’re going to reinforce the foundation. So that we can build upon it.” This was a reference to schemes that maximize talents of key players and using analytics to make informed decisions.
This all begins with solidifying the front office and hiring the correct general manager. Cleveland Browns ownership decided to part ways with former general manager John Dorsey after negations failed for an agreement on Dorsey’s decision-making power. Important criteria for the next general manager are someone that agrees with the organizations vision and provides correlating team philosophies.
A successful hire for the general manager is someone that effectively identifies the rosters foundational talent and doesn’t feel the need to enact another roster overhaul. Dorsey was able to bring in immense talent across both sides of the ball, and the next general manager must build upon that core talent. Players such as Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr, Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward are these core players that the foundation is built upon.
An area of the team that the general manager can positively influence is the breadth and depth of talent on the 53-man roster. The Browns currently have question marks across the offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, and safeties. Identifying players that fit the team’s overall scheme and acquiring that talent through proper cap space allocation is vital. A general manager that can efficiently make these decisions can help setup Kevin Stefanski for success from a talent perspective.
Although talent has a huge impact on the success for a football team it is not the only determining factor. As mentioned previously the responsibilities and decisions are a true reflection of the team’s eventual performance. Kevin Stefanski must surround himself with experienced members on the coaching staff, which includes an offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, and senior coaching assistants.
The process of hiring or retaining coordinators may likely happen after the team finds a general manager. But the evaluation of potential candidates should begin soon as possible. Hiring an offensive coordinator is a big decision for the front office because it may influence Stefanski’s decision to call plays. While responding to questions during his press conference, Kevin Stefanski alluded to not calling plays for the offense if it gives the team the best chance to win. It may have only been a comment to ease a doubter’s perspective, but it is a very important discussion to be had.
During Freddie Kitchens tenure it was obvious he was overwhelmed with responsibilities and the offensive play calling reflected it. This issue could be fixed with the front office hiring an offensive coordinator that has extensive play calling experience and is a former head coach. This sort of hire would support Kevin Stefanski because it can help him develop an effective weekly gameplan and improved situational play calling. Identifying a veteran offensive coordinator that has similar scheme concepts as Stefanski may make the decision to forfeit play calling responsibilities for the head coach easier.
On the defensive side of the ball, the decision to retain Steve Wilks or hire a new defensive coordinator may be more convoluted than what the surface shows. Reviewing the performance of Wilks’ defense this season, there were games that the defense performed very well but also dropped a dud against young quarterbacks. There are reasons to retain Steve Wilks such as continuity, growth for young players in the scheme, and his former head coaching experience. The decision is really a reflection of the front office’s belief in Wilks defensive potential.
In the situation that Wilks is not retained, the hired defensive coordinator should provide a scheme that supports the current roster. The best defensive schemes would be an attacking 4-3 or a base 4-2-5, because they support personnel moves made over the past two seasons. Whomever the defensive coordinator is next season, they must improve the teams run defense and be consistent as the offense grows under a new scheme.
Lastly, to round out Kevin Stefanski’s coaching staff is the special team’s coordinator and senior coaching assistants. The decision to retain special team’s coordinator Mike Priefer should be an easy choice because of the unit’s growth last season. Cleveland Browns special team units have been poor for the better half of the previous decade and Priefer would provide weekly performance consistency. Also, an overall coaching staff filled with senior coaching assistants that have been around the NFL a long time can help Kevin Stefanski with clock management, creating a disciplined locker room, and establishing the culture of accountability he spoke of during his introductory press conference.
The team is entering another season with a new head coach and less continuity than fans would like. There is finally proposed alignment from the top-down and everyone seems to agree on a shared vision. Hiring decisions made over the next few weeks may be some of the important choices as the organization begins the Kevin Stefanski era.