BEREA, Ohio — The Cleveland Browns are planning to hire Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski as their head coach, a source confirmed to ESPN.
Stefanski, 37, will replace Freddie Kitchens, whom the Browns fired on Dec. 29 after he posted a 6-10 record in his one season at the helm. Stefanski was a finalist for the Cleveland job last year as well, before the team promoted Kitchens from interim offensive coordinator instead.
The Vikings fell 27-10 to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round Saturday, clearing the way for Cleveland to officially move forward with Stefanski.
The Browns met with eight candidates, including 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. They also interviewed Mike McCarthy, whom the Dallas Cowboys later hired to be their head coach, Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
The Browns did not overreact to the performance of Stefanski’s offense on Saturday, when it managed just 147 total yards and allowed six sacks.
Stefanski becomes the franchise’s 18th head coach, but already the 12th (including interim head coaches) since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999. Stefanski will also be the fifth head coach that owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam have hired since purchasing the team in 2012.
The Haslams are still searching for a new general manager to pair with Stefanski in the wake of firing John Dorsey on Dec. 31 after just two years.
Jimmy Haslam told reporters last week that the new head coach would be “heavily involved” in whom the Browns hired to head the football operation, and that each would report to ownership as equals.
League sources confirmed the Browns have already put in a request to interview Indianapolis Colts assistant general manager Ed Dodds and Eagles vice president of football operations Andrew Berry, who worked in the Browns’ front office from 2016 to ’18.
Cleveland still has chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta, who assisted the Haslams with the coaching interviews. DePodesta has been a fan of Stefanski and pushed for the team to hire him last year, according to a team source.
“We will not have an arranged marriage,” Jimmy Haslam said on Jan. 2. “If you look at the successful organizations that are consistently in the playoffs year after year, there is alignment within the organization and they have the right people in the right place, coach and GM. That is what we are focusing on tremendously, and that alignment is something that is really, really important.”
Stefanski played defensive back at Penn. After graduating in 2005, he went to work for the Vikings, where he remained an assistant for the past 13 years.
Stefanski took over as interim offensive coordinator in Minnesota during the 2018 season and was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2019. This season, the Vikings ranked eighth in the NFL in scoring offense with 25.4 points per game and sixth in rushing offense with 133.3 yards per game.
He will take over a Browns offense loaded with talent, despite its poor performance this season, ranking 22nd in the league in offensive efficiency.
Running back Nick Chubb, wide receiver Jarvis Landry and offensive guard Joel Bitonio were Pro Bowl selections this year. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is a two-time All-Pro selection, and quarterback Baker Mayfield finished second in the Offensive Rookie of the Year voting in 2018.
This season, the Browns ran the NFL’s longest playoff drought to 17 years this season. They haven’t won a division title since 1989, which is also the longest streak in the league.
With the Browns tabbing Stefanski, there are currently no remaining head-coaching vacancies in the NFL.