Kevin Stefanski reached the doorstep last year.
He’s got another chance to break through and become coach of the Browns.
Stefanski, offensive coordinator for the Vikings, interviewed with the Browns on Thursday afternoon in Minnesota.
He was a finalist for the opening a year ago, finishing runner-up to Freddie Kitchens. Stefanski interviewed twice last year and is the only repeat candidate in this year’s search.
Kitchens was fired after the Browns went 6-10 in his lone season.
Stefanski, 37, is in his first full year as coordinator and play caller. He was quarterbacks coach last year before being promoted to coordinator with three games left when John DeFilippo was fired.
The Vikings upset the Saints last week in New Orleans and will play at the 49ers on Saturday in the second round of the playoffs.
The Vikings ranked eighth in the NFL in points (25.4) and 16th in yardage (353.5), including sixth rushing (133.3). Quarterback Kirk Cousins was fourth with a 107.4 passer rating, throwing 26 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Stefanski has learned from veteran assistant head coach/offensive adviser Gary Kubiak this season and implemented a diverse and balanced system with a heavy emphasis on the run game.
“He’s been exceptional,” Kubiak said, per the Duluth News Tribune. “It’s a great opportunity for him this season to do it on a full-time basis. He’s doing a great job with it.”
Stefanski reportedly was the choice of Browns chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta last season, but owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam went with Kitchens, who was favored by then-general manager John Dorsey. Stefanski is again considered a favorite to get the job, but must beat out Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who’s scheduled to interview Friday.
Stefanski is the seventh candidate to interview with the Browns, following former Packers coach Mike McCarthy, Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
The Cowboys hired McCarthy.
The Browns would like to make a pick soon, preferably this weekend, but are willing to wait if they decide to hold a second round of interviews. They also can’t make a hire official if the candidate is still coaching in the playoffs.
Jimmy Haslam wants alignment within the organization, with everyone in agreement philosophically and pulling in the same direction. His best chance could be with DePodesta, Stefanski and an analytics-heavy approach. Eagles vice president of football operations Andrew Berry would then be a strong candidate to return as general manager.
Haslam plans to hire the coach first, then give him strong input into the GM decision.
DePodesta, Berry and Stefanski would form an Ivy League power trio. DePodesta and Berry went to Harvard, and Stefanski was an all-league safety and captain at the University of Pennsylvania.
“He has no ego whatsoever,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman told reporters this season, referring to Stefanski. “He just wants to continue to learn and grow.”
Stefanski’s father, Ed, was a longtime general manager in the NBA and works as a senior adviser for the Detroit Pistons.
Stefanski is in his 14th season with the Vikings, working for three head coaches. He’s coached quarterbacks, running backs and tight ends. He’s never been a head coach at any level.
“He’s been around sports all the time. He’s very smart. He’s an Ivy League guy, very hard worker,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer told reporters. “Then as his time has grown, I’ve given him different responsibilities, whether it would be the running backs or tight ends or quarterbacks, now offensive coordinator. I think he sees the game kind of how I see it. Then he’s done a nice job of mixing the calls in.”