Kevin Stefanski is going to matter.
At least according to his predecessor.
The Browns finalized a decision Sunday to make Stefanski the franchise’s 18th full-time head coach, the 10th since its rebirth in 1999 and the sixth since Jimmy and Dee Haslam became the owners in 2012.
A person familiar with the coaching search confirmed the hire for the Beacon Journal after NFL Network first reported it. A formal announcement isn’t expected to be made until Monday at the earliest.
The Browns were the last of five NFL teams to fill a head coaching vacancy this offseason.
Coming off his first full season as the offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, Stefanski will succeed Freddie Kitchens, whom the Browns fired on Dec. 29 after going 6-10 in his only season on the job.
Last year, Kitchens famously said during his introductory news conference, “If you don’t wear brown and orange, you don’t matter.”
Well, Kitchens doesn’t matter anymore, but Stefanski will.
Stefanski had the backing of Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta in 2019, when he interviewed with the Browns but finished runner-up to Kitchens.
On Jan. 2, Jimmy Haslam said DePodesta would run the hiring process during the latest search, but ownership would make the final decision.
Haslam hadn’t followed DePodesta’s advice in the previous two coaching searches. In 2016, Haslam went with his choice, Hue Jackson, instead of DePodesta’s pick, Sean McDermott, now head coach of the Buffalo Bills. Last year, Haslam went with former general manager John Dorsey’s recommendation, Kitchens, instead of Stefanski.
The Browns chose Stefanski because they’re impressed with his intelligence, leadership qualities and ability to work well with others. They like the job he did guiding Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Kirk Cousins as a quarterbacks coach from 2017-18, the balanced offense he operated in the 2019 and the understanding he gained in Minnesota about the responsibilities of a head coach.
The Vikings lost 27-10 to the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday in the NFC’s divisional round of the playoffs. In Stefanski’s final game with the Vikings, they gained just seven first downs and 147 yards.
Stefanski’s offense was dominated by a defense coordinated by Robert Saleh, another Browns head coaching candidate. The Browns didn’t let the matchup influence their decision.