While division rivals are changing coaches left and right, it seems the Vikings will maintain some measure of continuity entering 2019. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport and ESPN’s Adam Schefter have both reported that interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski will return in the same role, minus the interim tag.
There were reports from Rapoport and Tom Pelissero that Stefanski was a finalist for the Browns’ head coaching job. Pelissero tweeted yesterday that Stefanski visited Cleveland on Tuesday. However, the Browns chose to promote interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens to head coach over Stefanski. It appears the Vikings locked in Stefanski in the wake of that announcement.
A Minnesota lifer, the 36-year-old Stefanski has been with the Vikings for the duration of his professional coaching career. He joined alongside Brad Childress as an assistant in 2006. Since then, he has coached most of the offensive position groups, including the quarterbacks the past two seasons. Stefanski was a candidate for promotion to offensive coordinator last season before the Vikings hired John DeFilippo.
But following a string of poor games from the DeFilippo-led offense, the Vikings let him go and promoted Stefanski to interim play-caller. His offense found a bit of traction in the first two games, scoring 41 and 27 points in relatively comfortable wins. They took a step back, however, in the must-win week 17 game against Chicago. The Vikings managed just 10 points and 164 total yards and ultimately missed the postseason.
Prior to week 17, Stefanski brought a much-needed change of pace to the Vikings offense. He ran the ball considerably more than DeFilippo and incorporated more play action, in addition to the classic West Coast style. With his return, the hope would be that the Vikings could build off of that success and erase the disappointment of a lost season.
Another reason for optimism is the fact that Stefanski worked more closely with Kirk Cousins last year than anyone. As his former quarterbacks coach, theoretically he should be best equipped to gameplan towards Cousins’ strengths while masking his weaknesses. Stefanski effectively utilized the running backs and tight ends in the passing game in his brief tenure as OC. That could be foreshadowing a stronger focus for the Vikings going forward.
Like with DeFilippo last year, however, there is a chance Stefanski’s hire is a one-and-done situation. With so many teams looking to find the next Sean McVay, young offensive minds are earning head coach interviews more than ever. Should Stefanski elevate the Vikings’ offense, he would certainly fit that bill. That said, his success is team success. Should the offense take a step forward, the Vikings would theoretically be Super Bowl contenders again. If that means losing the play-caller in the process, most fans would likely accept that trade.
While Stefanski’s name is not exactly fresh in Minnesota, and his most recent performance was lackluster, at the very least he provides continuity. That means Cousins and the offense enter the season with the same philosophy and the same terminology. Hopefully, it gives them the chance to build on something they began, but failed to finish this season.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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