But these are the Browns. Their 2021 coaching search is not underway yet, but history suggests that maybe it should be.
Kitchens lasted one season in Cleveland. That came after Hue Jackson lasted less than three seasons. Which came after Mike Pettine lasted two seasons. Which came after Rob Chudzinski lasted one season. Which came after Pat Shurmur lasted two seasons. Which came after Eric Mangini lasted two seasons. Which came … well, you get the idea. The Browns last reached the playoffs in the 2002 season, when Butch Davis was their coach.
So there is much for Stefanski to overcome. He does have plenty of talent on the roster, which made the Browns the darlings of the offseason and raised expectations so high. The decision by then-general manager John Dorsey and owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam to elevate Kitchens from offensive coordinator to head coach was ill-fated. Paul DePodesta, the Browns’ chief strategy officer, reportedly preferred Stefanski in that search. So DePodesta gets his guy this time, and the Browns could replace Dorsey, who left the team last month, with Philadelphia Eagles executive Andrew Berry, who was thought to be their preferred general manager candidate if Stefanski was named coach.
Will it work? That remains to be seen. The odds, as always in Cleveland, are probably against success. That’s nothing against Stefanski. He’s a well-regarded coach who got more out of Cousins this season after the quarterback’s up-and-down first year in Minnesota. Stefanski was committed to running the ball with Dalvin Cook, as Coach Mike Zimmer wanted, and Cousins and the Vikings benefited. Mayfield, Beckham, Chubb and the Browns can only hope the same approach works in Cleveland and that Stefanski is up to the task of being a head coach and all that comes with the promotion. Kitchens wasn’t.
But the real repercussions of the Browns’ decision are related to the candidates who weren’t hired.
There was some thought that McDaniels, the Patriots’ offensive coordinator who once lasted less than two seasons as the Denver Broncos’ head coach, was the front-runner for the job in Cleveland. He interviewed Friday, and there was speculation that a deal might be completed then. Instead, he stays in New England.
Many in the NFL believe McDaniels is in line to succeed Bill Belichick as the Patriots’ coach whenever the 67-year-old steps away. The Patriots’ dynasty could be crumbling, with quarterback Tom Brady eligible for free agency and the organization reeling from a first-round playoff exit. But Belichick has given no indication he’s ready to leave. Maybe McDaniels will be the head coach in New England someday, or maybe he won’t. But it certainly is interesting that he did not end up in Cleveland.
Likewise, Bieniemy remains in Kansas City as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator and Saleh stays with San Francisco as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator. Both were candidates for the Browns. Saleh’s 49ers defense got the better of Stefanki’s Vikings offense in Saturday’s NFC divisional-round matchup. But that meant Saleh keeps working for the 49ers as their season keeps going, while Stefanski was available to be hired Sunday by the Browns and go right to work in Cleveland. That’s how it works sometimes in the NFL.
The choice of Stefanski means, barring another switch, only one of the five coaches hired during this firing-and-hiring cycle was a minority: Ron Rivera, who joined the Washington Redskins after getting fired by the Carolina Panthers in December.
The Dallas Cowboys hired Mike McCarthy. The Panthers hired Matt Rhule. The New York Giants hired Joe Judge. The Browns chose Stefanski. Many minority coaches feel they are being passed over for head coaching chances they deserve, and the NFL will have to grapple with why its efforts to improve the diversity of its head coaches haven’t worked in recent years. Cleveland’s choice, in that regard, was part of a much larger issue.