New Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, on the job less than a month, has already assembled a very nice coaching staff.
He is surrounded by experienced minds on both sides of the ball, which should aid his transition from offensive coordinator to HC. However, as good as the staff looks on paper, it means nearly nil until the team performs better on the field, as we saw last season.
When Freddie Kitchens was hired, growing pains were expected. He had gone from running backs coach to OC to HC in mere months. His meteoric rise led some to worry whether he was ready to handle the responsibilities of leading a team. Some of those fears were put to rest when Kitchens (or John Dorsey rather) was able to assemble a strong-looking coaching staff. New OC Todd Monken had engineered a high-powered Tampa Bay passing offense. Steve Wilks followed Kitchens from Arizona as his new DC after a year as the Cardinals’ head coach. Before that, he headed up some strong Panthers defenses as coordinator in Carolina.
Monken and Wilks would theoretically give Kitchens the support and experience he needed to figure things out, but that didn’t end up being the case. Kitchens repeatedly ignored Monken’s input, and Wilks’ unit fell victim to a rash of suspensions and injuries, leaving him very little to work with, especially on the defensive line.
Things will be different this time, we can hope. Stefanski is marginally more experienced than Kitchens at the time of hiring: 11 more regular season games as a play-caller. The main difference between the two is Stefanski wasn’t hired as much for play-calling abilities as his temperament, progressive football mind, and leadership.
Stefanski will have solid support. New offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt served as QB coach for the Cincinnati Bengals the last two seasons, and for Green Bay the four prior years, some of Aaron Rodgers‘ best. Van Pelt is a respected offensive mind whom the Bengals community was not happy to lose.
Chad O’Shea, the new wide receivers coach and pass game coordinator, spent 2019 as offensive coordinator for Dolphins, who flopped. But he did spend 10 years as WR coach for the New England Patriots with great success.
Some outrage following the firing of Browns OL and associate head coach James Campen. Though only in Cleveland for one season, he’s one of the best OL coaches in the league. His work in Green Bay was impressive, developing late-round talent into premier starters, such as David Bakhtiari. But it’s fair to say the team upgraded in Bill Callahan, formerly with the Washington Redskins. Callahan has Super Bowl head coaching experience, and should be able to mold one or two young offensive tackles perhaps to be acquired this off-season.
James Woods takes over as DC, having coached the defensive backs for the San Francisco 49ers in 2019. In the two years prior, he was the DC for the Denver Broncos, succeeding Wade Phillips. Woods likes to run man coverage and a 4-3 under scheme, which will make Cleveland’s personnel decisions involving players like Olivier Vernon and Joe Schobert quite interesting.
There’s absolutely no guarantee that Stefanski’s strong staff ends up improving the on-field product. Kitchens’ certainly didn’t. But a good staff on paper is better than a bad one. Now this group has to prove its worth by instilling a culture change in the locker room, helping the talent on the roster perform to its potential.