Stuck in Minnesota, Browns coach adjusts to ‘strange times’

Published 7:29 pm Thursday, April 2, 2020

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CLEVELAND — Kevin Stefanski’s title has changed. His address remains the same.

Stuck in Minnesota with his family, the Cleveland Browns’ first-year coach has been holed up and riding out the coronavirus pandemic, which has created challenges as he prepares for the NFL draft and a season that remains in question.

Stefanski has been pulling out all the stops as a stay-at-home gym teacher — “baseball, bike rides, hitting some plastic golf balls” — to keep his three kids entertained during the most unusual football offseason of his life.

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And while Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield has been making his body buff, Stefanski said he’s been too busy coaching from afar to notice.

Stefanski, who spent the past 13 seasons as a Vikings assistant, spoke to reporters on Thursday for the first time in weeks. He said his family’s planned move to the Cleveland area has been postponed, put on hold like so many other things in the lives of so many people.

“This is definitely testing my parenting skills,” Stefanski said with a chuckle. ”Strange times.”

For now, Stefanski’s days are filled with Zoom video conferences and remote planning sessions with his staff and first-time general manager Andrew Berry, whose aggressiveness in free agency has helped the Browns address some major needs.

It’s hardly an ideal start for Stefanski, who along with Carolina’s Matt Rhule and the Giants’ Joe Judge, are the league’s only rookie coaches. He’s doing all he can to make the most out of a unique situation he’s completely powerless to control.

The disruption could be especially hard on a young coach with a young team, but Stefanski is determined not to allow it to alter his plans for the Browns, who fell short of expectations last season.

“You’ve just got to make it work,” Stefanski said. “I don’t look at it from any other perspective than that. I think all 32 teams are at the same disadvantage. It’s a very fluid situation. We are just awaiting word from the league on how they’re going to handle certain things, and then we’ll adapt and adjust accordingly.”

The Browns were scheduled to open their voluntary offseason workout program Monday. But team headquarters in Berea is closed and Stefanski is awaiting word from the league about how much contact he’s allowed to have with his players.

“We have plans and then contingency plans and contingency plans for those contingency plans,” he said. “We’re trying to think about this thing and hit it from every angle, pending the rules and pending the structure that the NFL and the NFLPA agree upon. Is it virtual classrooms?