Sources: Stefanski returning as Vikings' OC
MINNEAPOLIS – One day after his contract expired, Kevin Stefanski is set to return to Minnesota to take over over offensive coordinator duties for the Vikings on a full-time basis, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Stefanski, who was promoted from quarterbacks coach to interim OC ahead of Week 15 when the Vikings fired John DeFilippo, was considered a finalist for the Cleveland Browns head coaching position. On Wednesday morning, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Browns OC Freddie Kitchens beat out Stefanski for the job.
The Vikings were in a holding pattern over the last few days while Stefanski’s talks with Cleveland ramped up. Sources indicated to ESPN that throughout the process, the former interim OC was in regular communication with the Vikings about the possibility of returning for his 14th season with the franchise.
Retaining Stefanski is considered a critical move in helping to build continuity for an offense that put up big numbers at times but struggled to find its identity and finish games during an 8-7-1 season. The Vikings were the only team in the NFL without a fourth-quarter comeback or game-winning drive in 2018.
Minnesota’s offense went through a host of ups and downs during quarterback Kirk Cousins‘ first year with the franchise, ranking 20th in yards and 19th in scoring. While the Vikings boasted a top-tier passing game (13th), predicated off the success Cousins had with receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, the team struggled to generate a consistent rushing attack, ranking 30th in yards per game (93.3).
Stefanski earned back-to-back wins against the Dolphins and Lions after taking over play-calling duties ahead of Week 15. The Vikings offense had a season-high 220 rushing yards against Miami but notched just 164 rushing yards in the season finale against Chicago, which was the lowest output of the season.
Following the loss to the Bears while uncertainty loomed about the position, players voiced support for Stefanski and what retaining the offensive coordinator would mean for the continuity on that side of the ball.
“I think any time that you have more time in the same system, and more time to kind of master what you’re good at and figure out your identity, it’s probably better,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said.
Added Cousins: “”I enjoyed working with Kevin. He’s a great person, a great football mind. He’s been here a long time. But he’s going to have options, too. So hopefully he wants to work with me. It goes both ways. But he’s been a joy to work with.”
Stefanski is the longest-tenured coach on the Vikings staff, having joined on in Minnesota under Brad Childress in 2006 as an assistant to the head coach. Stefanski has since coached tight ends, runnings backs and quarterbacks before receiving his first shot at calling plays in 2018.
Coach Mike Zimmer addressed what he was seeking in his next offensive coordinator during his season-ending press conference last week. The coach said he aimed to make a decision about the position before Tuesday, when Stefanski’s contract expired.
“I think the biggest thing we’ve got to score points,” Zimmer said. “We didn’t score enough when we were in the red zone. Obviously, I want to be able to run the football and play action pass because I think that is the most effective way to affect a defense. We didn’t score enough points in the red zone. We weren’t good enough on third downs. There were a lot of things that we need to improve on there. That is going to be big. Part of it is making sure that we are able to without getting too complicated in the X’s and O’s. But a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about is, ‘We’ve got this great player. How are we going to block him?” Let’s get innovative with this so we can protect and be able to throw the ball or protect and be able to run the ball to a different spot.”