Kevin Stefanski

Browns Activate Denzel Ward, Kevin Johnson From Reserve/COVID-19 List

The Browns will have more of their regulars in uniform Sunday in Kansas City than they did in Pittsburgh last week. They activated cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson off their reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday.

Both players missed the past two games after testing positive for the coronavirus. NFL protocols would have permitted Ward to return last week, but he did not clear the necessary hurdles to return. The Browns beat the Steelers anyway, though Pittsburgh’s wide receivers enjoyed big days in Week 17 and in the teams’ opening-round matchup. The Chiefs are quite talented at this position as well.

An offseason addition, Johnson has operated as a part-time starter for the Browns. Ward has been the team’s No. 1 corner essentially since arriving in Cleveland in 2018. The Browns hope to have Joel Bitonio and wideout KhaDarel Hodge against the Chiefs as well.

Browns offensive line coach Bill Callahan also returned to practice Wednesday. The veteran NFL staffer experienced COVID symptoms, according to Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com, who adds Kevin Stefanski has encountered symptoms as well. However, Stefanski is expected to coach against the Chiefs. Wideouts coach Chad O’Shea was also symptomatic, per Cabot, but he is also back at practice. Assistant O-line coach Scott Peters, tight ends coach Drew Petzing and DBs coach Jeff Howard remain out due to COVID.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Denzel Ward To Miss Wild-Card Game

The Browns’ uphill battle in their first playoff game in 18 years became steeper Saturday. The team announced it will be without top cornerback Denzel Ward in Pittsburgh.

Ward will remain on the Browns’ reserve/COVID-19 list. So will fellow starting cornerback Kevin Johnson, who also tested positive last week. Both missing last week limited a Browns secondary in a game when Mason Rudolph threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns.

Based on his timeline, coronavirus protocols would have allowed Ward to suit up against the Steelers. But this would have required Ward being asymptomatic and passing the necessary tests. The third-year corner has not hit the necessary checkpoints, which will leave the Browns shorthanded Sunday night. The NFL found some COVID-19 spread within the Browns but did not move to postpone the AFC North playoff matchup.

However, the Browns will have some players back for their Steelers tilt. The team activated safety Ronnie Harrison, linebacker Malcolm Smith and tight end Harrison Bryant from its virus list. Harrison tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, but the NFL deemed it a false positive, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports. Browns corner Terrance Mitchell was held out of practice Friday after testing positive, per Cabot, but that has also since been deemed a false positive.

The returns of Harrison, Smith and Bryant leave Ward, Johnson, Joel Bitonio and KhaDarel Hodge on Cleveland’s COVID list. Several coaches, however, will miss the game. Kevin Stefanski, offensive line coach Bill Callahan, assistant O-line coach Scott Peters, tight ends coach Drew Petzing and DBs coach Jeff Howard are out Sunday night. After coaching the Browns’ wide receivers last week, first-year Cleveland assistant Callie Brownson will coach tight ends this week, Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com tweets.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns Joel Bitonio, Kevin Stefanski Test Positive For COVID-19

The Browns are going to the playoffs, but they’ll be without some of their key cast members. Head coach Kevin Stefanski and left guard Joel Bitonio have both tested positive for COVID-19 (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero). Wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge has also tested positive with five cases in total from the latest round. 

The Browns-Steelers game is still scheduled to go ahead, with the belief that the Browns’ newest cases are the result of community spread, rather than a full-on facility outbreak. With Stefanski keeping his distance, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will serve as the acting head coach. Meanwhile, Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt is expected to call the plays.

Bitonio, of course, is a big loss for the Browns. The three-time Pro Bowler has been a rock throughout his seven-year career, despite constant instability in Cleveland. This year, he’s continued his excellent work while mentoring promising rookie Jedrick Wills. In his place, the Browns will be forced to turn to Michael Dunn or rookie Nick Harris — neither backup can block like Bitonio.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Kevin Stefanski To Call Browns’ Plays

Despite being hired after a successful one-season stay as the Vikings’ offensive coordinator, Kevin Stefanski refused to commit to calling plays for months. He ended the suspense Friday.

The first-year Browns head coach will indeed call plays this season, he announced. This certainly does not come as a surprise, with OC hire Alex Van Pelt last serving in that role 11 years ago in Buffalo.

Stefanski, however, does not have extensive experience calling plays either. He took over as Vikings OC late in the 2018 season, after Minnesota ended John DeFilippo‘s play-calling tenure, and retained play-calling responsibilities after Gary Kubiak‘s arrival last year. The Vikings moved from 18th to 10th in offensive DVOA from 2018-19, and their 38-year-old play-caller parlayed that into the Browns’ HC position — after being passed over for Freddie Kitchens in 2019.

The Browns finished 20th in offensive DVOA last season, with their Kitchens-head coach experiment lasting only one year. This metric has not placed the Browns in the top half of the league since their 10-6 2007 season.

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Longest-Tenured Head Coaches In The NFL

Things move fast in today’s NFL and the old adage of “coaches are hired to be fired” has seemingly never been more true. For the most part, teams change their coaches like they change their underwear. 

A head coach can take his team to the Super Bowl, or win the Super Bowl, or win multiple Super Bowls, but they’re never immune to scrutiny. Just ask Tom Coughlin, who captured his second ring with the Giants after the 2011 season, only to receive his pink slip after the 2015 campaign.

There are also exceptions. Just look at Bill Belichick, who just wrapped up his 20th season at the helm in New England. You’ll also see a few others on this list, but, for the most part, most of today’s NFL head coaches are relatively new to their respective clubs. And, history dictates that many of them will be elsewhere when we check in on this list in 2022.

Over one-third (12) of the NFL’s head coaches have coached no more than one season with their respective teams. Meanwhile, less than half (15) have been with their current clubs for more than three years. It seems like just yesterday that the Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury, right? It sort of was – Kingsbury signed on with the Cardinals in January of 2019. Today, he’s practically a veteran.

Here’s the list of the current head coaches in the NFL, ordered by tenure, along with their respective start dates:

  1. Bill Belichick (New England Patriots): January 27, 2000
  2. Sean Payton (New Orleans Saints): January 18, 2006
  3. Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers): January 27, 2007
  4. John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens): January 19, 2008
  5. Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks): January 9, 2010
  6. Andy Reid (Kansas City Chiefs): January 4, 2013
  7. Bill O’Brien (Houston Texans): January 2, 2014
  8. Mike Zimmer (Minnesota Vikings): January 15, 2014
  9. Dan Quinn (Atlanta Falcons): February 2, 2015
  10. Doug Pederson (Philadelphia Eagles): January 18, 2016
  11. Sean McDermott (Buffalo Bills): January 11, 2017
  12. Doug Marrone (Jacksonville Jaguars): December 19, 2016 (interim; permanent since 2017)
  13. Anthony Lynn (Los Angeles Chargers): January 12, 2017
  14. Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams): January 12, 2017
  15. Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco 49ers): February 6, 2017
  16. Matt Nagy (Chicago Bears): January 7, 2018
  17. Matt Patricia (Detroit Lions): February 5, 2018
  18. Frank Reich (Indianapolis Colts): February 11, 2018
  19. Jon Gruden (Las Vegas Raiders): January 6, 2018
  20. Mike Vrabel (Tennessee Titans): January 20, 2018
  21. Kliff Kingsbury (Arizona Cardinals): January 8, 2019
  22. Zac Taylor (Cincinnati Bengals): February 4, 2019
  23. Vic Fangio (Denver Broncos): January 10, 2019
  24. Matt LaFleur (Green Bay Packers): January 8, 2019
  25. Brian Flores (Miami Dolphins): February 4, 2019
  26. Adam Gase (New York Jets): January 11, 2019
  27. Bruce Arians (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): January 8, 2019
  28. Ron Rivera (Washington Redskins): January 1, 2020
  29. Matt Rhule (Carolina Panthers): January 7, 2020
  30. Mike McCarthy (Dallas Cowboys): January 7, 2020
  31. Joe Judge (New York Giants): January 8, 2020
  32. Kevin Stefanski (Cleveland Browns): January 13, 2020

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns Rumors: Berry, OBJ, Landry, Van Pelt

The Browns dominated last year’s NFL offseason storylines. After their strong finish to the 2018 season, lead executive John Dorsey made a number of aggressive moves, highlighted by the acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr. However, while that momentum led them to be a pundit favorite to win their division and potentially reach the Super Bowl, those predictions never came close to fruition. They finished the season 6-10 and moved on from Dorsey and rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens.

New general manager Andrew Berry though, seemed to suggest he will at least follow Dorsey in his willingness to make bold moves. In her weekly mailbag, Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com noted that Berry was clear in his introductory press conference that he was looking to be aggressive and would not shy away from big moves.

Here are more notes from around the Browns organization:

  • Jay Glazer of The Athletic does not expect Cleveland to make any moves to unload either Beckham or Jarvis Landry this offseason. Glazer noted that new head coach Kevin Stefanski would likely want as many offensive weapons as possible given his focus on offense. Glazer did note that both Beckham and Landry have to be invested in Stefanski for that to work. He could still see a trade occurring if they are unwilling to buy-in.
  • Cleveland has yet to announce if there will be a quarterbacks coach on Stefanski’s staff. In a separate part of her mailbag, Mary Kay Cabot suggested there is a pretty good chance that offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will serve the dual role as coordinator and QB coach considering his lengthy experience at that position.

AFC North Notes: Burrow, Stefanski, Ravens

The Bengals are widely expected to take LSU QB Joe Burrow with the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, but there may be a bit of intrigue in that regard, per Albert Breer of SI.com. Burrow will work with former Bengal Jordan Palmer, the little brother of franchise icon Carson Palmer, for his pre-draft training. And the elder Palmer recently had some critical comments for Cincinnati, saying that the club was never really dedicated to chasing a Super Bowl.

Burrow subsequently said the following: “[y]ou want to go No. 1. But you also want to go to a great organization that is committed to winning. Committed to winning Super Bowls.” That may just be a coincidence, and Burrow’s father recently downplayed any notion that Burrow doesn’t want to be picked by the Bengals (Twitter link via Jeremy Rauch of FOX 19), but Breer believes Bengals Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin may need to sell Burrow on the team just a bit.

Now for more from the AFC North:

  • As expected, the Bengals have promoted Dan Pitcher to quarterbacks coach after Alex Van Pelt left for Cleveland’s OC job, the team announced. Pitcher will have a significant role in Burrow’s development, assuming Cincy selects the LSU signal-caller.
  • We passed along some remarks from new Browns GM Andrew Berry earlier today, and new Cleveland HC Kevin Stefanski also took to the podium. Scott Patsko of Cleveland.com passes along the entire transcript, which is worth a read for Browns fans, but much of it was fairly non-committal coach-speak, which Stefanski has already mastered. Stefanski, though, made it a point to note that he will be heavily involved in making personnel decisions with Berry, and he said he does not know who will be calling offensive plays this year.
  • Though the Ravens have more cap flexibility this year than in past seasons, Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic does not expect a spending spree. He predicts perhaps one big-ticket item and a few modest signings, and much will depend on what the club decides to do with pass rusher Matt Judon — a situation that is still fluid — and whether RG Marshal Yanda retires. He also names OL James Hurst as a potential release candidate.
  • Steelers president Art Rooney II indicated his club may target a RB and/or WR in free agency, per Teresa Varley of Steelers.com, though Rooney said Pittsburgh is content with the quarterback situation as it is. Behind Ben Roethlisberger, the club will roll with some combination of Mason Rudolph, Duck Hodges, and Paxton Lynch.

Extra Points: Johnson, Stefanski, Browns

Chad Johnson’s time as a pro football player might not be finished after all. The legendary former NFL receiver will tryout as a kicker with the XFL on Monday, he announced on Twitter. The tryout in Houston is indeed legit, Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com confirmed with a source. Johnson is 42 now, and hasn’t appeared in a game since the 2011 season. He’s a huge soccer fan, and has often expressed an interest in kicking. Back during the 2009 preseason when he was still with the Bengals, he converted an extra point and handled a kickoff. Johnson became a six-time Pro Bowler with Cincinnati and was a first-team All-Pro selection three times. One of the best receivers in the league for a long stretch, he finished with 11,059 yards and 67 touchdowns. He also briefly played in the CFL a handful of years ago. It still seems like more of a publicity stunt than anything else, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Here’s more from around the football world:

  • The Browns settled on a new head coach in Kevin Stefanski, but they’re still searching for a new general manager. One potential candidate is Vikings assistant GM George Paton, but he’s apparently hard to pin down. Paton has been very picky with interviews in recent years, and the Browns still haven’t gotten a firm commitment from him on whether or not he’ll interview, according to Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). It was initially reported that Paton had agreed to interview, but that turned out not to be true. Eagles executive Andrew Berry and Patriots exec Monti Ossenfort are also candidates.
  • Whoever Cleveland selects to be their next GM, Stefanski will have a lot of input in the front office. The rookie head coach “will have a large say in roster decisions,” writes Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Kay Cabot thinks they wouldn’t want his help hiring the new general manager if he wasn’t going to have a lot of power once they’re hired. Stefanski is still only 37 and last season was his first full one as a coordinator, but the Haslam family clearly has a lot of trust in him.
  • Stefanski still has some staffing decisions to make, even after it appears he settled on Joe Woods to be his new defensive coordinator. He won’t be hiring a new special teams coordinator, as sources told Kay Cabot that he’s going to keep Mike Priefer as a rare holdover from Freddie Kitchens’ staff. Priefer was Minnesota’s special teams coordinator for eight seasons while Stefanski was with the Vikings, so they have a lot of familiarity with one another. Priefer had previously been STC for the Chiefs and Broncos.

Browns Hire Kevin Stefanski As Head Coach

Jan. 13: The Browns have formally announced the hire. Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports that Cleveland has given Stefanski a five-year contract (Twitter link).

Jan. 12: The Browns will hire Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski as their new head coach, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link), and Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reports (via Twitter) that it’s a done deal. Stefanski was the runner-up for the Cleveland HC gig last year, and after Freddie Kitchen‘s disastrous 2019 campaign resulted in his dismissal, the Browns have circled back to the man many believe they should have hired in the first place.

Stefanski has served in a variety of roles for the Vikings since joining the organization back in 2006, including stints as the tight ends coach, running backs coach, and quarterbacks coach. The 37-year-old was named interim offensive coordinator following the firing of John DeFilippo during the 2018 season, and he earned the full-time gig prior to the 2019 campaign.

During Stefanski’s first full season at the helm, the Vikings ranked as a top-10 offense in points. The coach led the trio of Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, and Mike Boone to top-six rankings in rushing yards and touchdowns, and he also helped quarterback Kirk Cousins have one of the best seasons of his career. Although the Vikings laid an egg in Saturday’s divisional round loss to the 49ers, Cleveland was obviously undeterred.

The Browns’ coaching search saw them interview eight candidates, as our 2020 head coaching search tracker shows (former Baylor HC Matt Rhule, who ultimately accepted the Panthers’ head coaching job, turned down the opportunity to interview with Cleveland). Browns chief strategist Paul DePodesta piloted the search, and recent reports indicated that he had narrowed his list to Stefanski and Patriots OC Josh McDaniels, though Cabot tweets that Stefanski and 49ers DC Robert Saleh were the two finalists.

Interestingly, DePodesta’s contract with Cleveland is reportedly set to expire, but given his role in the coaching search, it seems likely that the Browns will retain him. However, the team continues to search for a new GM, and Eagles vice president of football operations Andrew Berry may have just become the leading candidate for that role, as his analytically-driven approach meshes with Stefanski’s.

Meanwhile, Vikings QB coach Klint Kubiak could follow Stefanski to Cleveland to become the Browns’ new OC, as Mike Klis of 9News.com tweets.

With the Stefanski hire, the 2020 head coaching cycle has come to a stop. The Browns were the last of the five teams with a head coaching vacancy this year to hire their HC.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Browns’ Coaching & GM Search

The Browns have their new head coach in Kevin Stefanski, but they still need a new GM after firing John Dorsey. They recently requested an interview with Eagles exec Andrew Berry, and Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports tweets that he’s “at the front of the GM candidates.”

Robinson notes that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam once said he considered Berry a future GM, and that he has a relationship with chief strategist Paul DePodesta. In a separate tweet, Robinson explains that it may come down to whether or not Berry wants to take the job. He notes that Berry, who used to work in Cleveland under former GM Sashi Brown, is only 32 and in a good situation in Philly. He also writes that Berry will likely get other calls if he passes on the job.

As for the search that ultimately ended in Stefanski, Robinson has some interesting new nuggets. He tweets that Josh McDanielswanted a specific structure with the Browns” and that he “wasn’t going to an org where DePodesta or anyone else was a ‘side jury’ reporting to Haslam.” If that’s the case, then it sounds like McDaniels never got too close to landing in Cleveland despite his lengthy visit. The Browns and Haslam have caught plenty of flak for their odd reporting structures, and it sounds like that was an issue once again this time around. 

Robinson also tweets that both Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh “had very good interviews” and that he thinks they were the finalists along with Stefanski. Both should be hot names during next cycle. As for Stefanski’s staff, Robinson tweets that the rookie head coach will likely target either Gary or Klint Kubiak. The Kubiaks were on staff with Stefanski in Minnesota, although Robinson thinks the Vikings will try to retain both. Either could be a candidate to be Cleveland’s new OC assuming Stefanski hires one.

Finally, Robinson tweeted about the future prospects for assistant GM Eliot Wolf and VP of Player Personnel Alonzo Highsmith. He thinks the Haslams are open to both staying, and that Wolf will have a conversation with whoever the new GM is about a role.