Coach Kevin Stefanski helps coordinator Alex Van Pelt install the playbook in a video conference with the offensive staff. He listens in on meetings of the personnel department in preparation for the draft. He plans for the day when he’ll be allowed to be in front of his players, whether in person or, much more likely, remotely.
That’s when he’s not doing his other job — teaching physical education to his three children at their home in Minnesota. He’s got a varied lesson plan that includes baseball, cycling and golf.
“This is definitely testing my parenting skills,” Stefanski said Thursday on a conference call. “I am one of the better gym coaches there is right now, so PE has been a big hit in this household.”
Stefanski’s first offseason as a head coach hasn’t been what he imagined, as the world has been turned upside-down by the coronavirus pandemic. The NFL continued with free agency in March as scheduled and is adamant about holding the draft April 23-25, but the normal routines and procedures no longer exist.
Stefanski returned to Minnesota a couple of weeks ago for a visit and decided to stay, with the family’s move to Northeast Ohio postponed. The Browns facility in Berea is closed, so as long as he’s working remotely he might as well do it with his family in their home.
He may even be stuck in Minnesota for the draft. The Browns hold the No. 10 pick and four among the first 97.
“I would say anything’s possible,” said Stefanski, who spent the previous 14 years as an assistant with the Vikings. “Obviously a unique situation. I want to get to Cleveland ASAP, but I’ll heed the advice of the professionals on this one.”
Despite the unprecedented situation, Stefanski is keeping his chin up and head down.
“Strange times but we’re full steam ahead getting ready with our team, getting ready with our program and ready to deal with whatever the rules come out to be in this offseason,” he said. “Whatever the rules are, we’ll play by them, but it cannot slow down our preparation. We’re right on course of where we need to be.”
He was supposed to open the offseason program April 6, but everything’s on hold. He hasn’t received word on how the offseason program will look without players allowed in team facilities for the foreseeable future. Normally they would’ve arrived Monday to begin classroom work and strength and conditioning, before transitioning to on-field work and practices.
“Honestly, I really, truly believe we have a plan in place,” Stefanski said. “We have a program that we’re ready to roll out pending some of the structure of what we’re allowed to do, so we preach this all the time that you have to be ready to adapt and you have to be ready to hit the curveball. So this is a bit of a curveball, but I think our guys are thinking creatively about how to attack this offseason and that’s where I have a ton of confidence in our coaching staff. It’s our job to attack this thing and make sure that we make great strides this offseason regardless of what the structure of this offseason looks like.”
The organization has been using web conferencing – Stefanski gave shout-outs to the IT and video departments — to meet and discuss the varied scenarios for how the next few months will proceed. Minicamp in June usually ends the offseason program and could be canceled, and there’s a chance the start of training camp in July will be postponed.
“We have plans and then contingency plans and contingency plans for those contingency plans,” Stefanski said. “We’re trying to think about this thing and hit it from every angle.
“Is it virtual classrooms? We’re ready for that, but we just don’t know exactly how it’s going to go down.”
With one of three rookie head coaches, the Browns would seem to be behind the rest of the league without a normal offseason. Stefanski has playbooks to teach, a culture to instill and chemistry to build but refused to use the circumstances as an excuse.
“You’ve just got to make it work,” he said. “I don’t look at it from any other perspective than that. I think all 32 teams are at the same disadvantage.”
Stefanski hasn’t been able to gather his whole team but he’s had conversations with players since he was hired in January. He and his staff are stressing the safety of the players and their families.
“So we’re making sure if they need anything, they know that we’re here to help them,” he said.
Without the players being in the building, Stefanski said the Browns will get creative to create chemistry.
“When you’re not sitting in the locker room for an hour with each other, there’s some missed opportunities to build a team, but that is something that we’re thinking long and hard about some ways to do that,” he said. “So we have a lot of ideas that we’re itching to put into practice when it may come.”
Quarterback Baker Mayfield and linebacker Mack Wilson are among the players who’ve posted videos of their workouts to social media. Stefanski wants them adhering to social distancing guidelines but said they must find a way to train.
“So we with them are going to have to be creative about this and make sure that they’re getting the work in that they have to get in because a lot of gyms are closed, and a lot of places you can’t go work out with a buddy,” he said. “You’ve got to do these things on your own, so there’s definitely a spartan element to that. But I’m glad to hear that Baker and some other guys are attacking this thing.”
Maybe the gym coach can pass along some tips.