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Kevin Stefanski on overhaul of coaching staff: Sometimes change can be good

INDIANAPOLIS — Kevin Stefanski tried stability for his first three years as coach.

After two straight missing the playoffs, it was time for change — a lot of it. Stefanski replaced the defensive and special teams coordinators and made several other moves after the Browns went 7-10 in 2022.

“We had continuity there for a bunch of years and that can be good, and I think sometimes change can be good,” he said Wednesday at the scouting combine.

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Stefanski, who’s 27-25 in three years, was asked if the two straight losing seasons necessitated the overhaul.

“You look at everything, you try to be as clear-eyed about it and you try to spend as much time as you can on every decision you make,” he said. “So with all of our coaches, you try to spend some time and look at what is best for the organization and just with some of the moves we made, I felt like that was what was best for us.

“There’s certainly a different perspective that I gained from some of the people that we’re able to talk to and obviously the people we were able to hire. It really pushes you to rethink certain things of what we’re doing and make sure that we’re trying to do the best thing for the team.”

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Defensive coordinator Joe Woods was fired right after the finale Jan. 8 in Pittsburgh and quickly replaced with Jim Schwartz. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer wasn’t fired until last week, then replaced by Bubba Ventrone. Stefanski wouldn’t say if Priefer would’ve stayed if Ventrone hadn’t become available.

“You’re always trying to make the decisions with all the information at hand, so we ultimately decided to make that move,” he said. “I think the world of Mike Priefer the person, the coach, he’s a really, really good football coach, a really good friend.

“With Bubba Ventrone, we’re excited what he brings. I played against Bubba back when he was at Villanova, I was at Penn, so we go way back. He’s a good coach, excited to have him, former player, player for the Browns obviously. I think that lends to credibility. It lends to what he knows what Northeast Ohio is about.”

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Schwartz was Lions head coach for five years and has been a coordinator for 14. Ventrone was a special teams ace, including in 2009-12 with the Browns, and was the Colts’ coordinator for the previous five seasons.

Stefanski calls plays on offense and is in every quarterback meeting, so Schwartz and Ventrone will have a lot of autonomy.

“I think any head coach will want to hire the strongest possible staff around him,” general manager Andrew Berry said Tuesday. “So I would maybe push back on the notion that just because Kevin hired Jim, just because Kevin hired Bubba that means that there’s going to be any sort of application of responsibility with the other phases of the team.”

Among the other moves was the addition of Bill Musgrave as senior offensive assistant. He’s a former quarterback, quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator but won’t concentrate on the quarterbacks.

“Bill won’t be in the quarterback room. He will be contributing throughout our entire staff,” said Stefanski, who worked with Musgrave with the Vikings. “He will assist me in a bunch of areas and he will assist AVP in a bunch of areas, but day to day, he won’t be in the quarterback room.”

Coordinator Alex Van Pelt will double as the lead quarterbacks coach.

Ephraim Banda was hired as safeties coach after 12 years at the collegiate level, the last two as defensive coordinator with Utah State, and Stefanski said he came highly recommended. Among those transitioning to new roles are Callie Brownson and Riley Hecklinski.

Brownson will have a full-time role as assistant receivers coach — a first in franchise history for a woman. She spent the last two years as Stefanski’s chief of staff and was assistant receivers coach last year to Chad O’Shea. Stefanski said Brownson’s role will be “very different” this year.

“She’s not the chief of staff anymore, so that takes a lot off of her plate,” he said. “So she’ll continue to have more to do for our offense. Assisting Coach O’Shea in that room, which she’s done a great job. She spends a lot of time with the young coaches in there and I think is really developing her coaching voice.”

Stefanski takes a lot of pride in having diversity on his staff, and that includes Hecklinski as coordinator of coaching logistics, essentially chief of staff.

“Riley’s been awesome. She’s been in our building as a scouting assistant,” Stefanski said. “You see her work ethic. She’s the daughter of a coach, so she knows this profession, she knows the work that it takes. She’s really sharp so she’s a young person that we’re enjoying having on our staff and I think kind of growing as a young person in this business.”

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.


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