Kevin Stefanski defied all odds in winning Coach of the Year
By Nick Pedone
The odds were against him but Kevin Stefanski still won the prestigious Coach of the Year award
CLEVELAND — When Kevin Stefanski was selected to be the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns, it felt as though the organization had seen this movie before.
A huge January coaching decision settled on an inexperienced coordinator that no other team was going to hire if the Browns chose not to.
But this time it worked. Even though there was a myriad of reasons for it to fail.
Stefanski’s family’s move to Ohio was delayed, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and he didn’t meet his new players until August when a condensed training camp took place. When the team won their first playoff game in 18 years, Stefanski watched from his basement television with COVID-19. That still wasn’t enough to stop Stefanski from winning the Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year.
After an opening week 38-6 blowout against the Baltimore Ravens, Stefanski took accountability, a trend that would sustain throughout the season.
"“We have 15 more games,” he said after that loss via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. “We have one in four days. Unless it’s the end of the season, one game doesn’t decide what we are going to be and how we will do this year.”"
That remark held up the entire season, as the Browns did not once lose consecutive games under Stefanski, finishing the regular season with a remarkable 11-5 record.
"“His poise, his ability to handle adversity and ultimately lead our team through adversity the entire year, he never lost his cool, he never lost his poise,” EVP/GM Andrew Berry said."
Whether it was Myles Garrett’s positive COVID-19 test, losing the entire wide receiver room to contact tracing, finding tremendous offensive success without his superstar wideout, or turning around Baker Mayfield’s entire career, Stefanski was never rattled. The moment was never too big for him. That’s how he ended up as the NFL Coach of the Year in 2020.
At just 38 years old, Stefanski became the first head coach to win the honors since Forrest Gregg in 1976.
Even at the apex, Stefanski demonstrated humility and leadership as he accepted his coveted award.
"“I’m incredibly humbled, especially given some of the coaching we’ve witnessed this season around the NFL,” Stefanski said in a video. “My name may be on this award, but I think this speaks to the amazing support I get day in and day out from my coaching staff with the Cleveland Browns. I’m very glad I don’t have to do this by myself.”“Then the players. It helps to have good players. I appreciate how they work every single day, week in and week out and how they fought. I appreciate that from those guys.”"
In a postgame Zoom meeting the day after the team’s divisional-round exit from the NFL postseason at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs, Stefanski reminded those players and coaches to remember the hurt of that loss and use it as motivation.
While Stefanski won the NFL Coach of the Year honors in his rookie season, he has seemingly only scratched the surface on the impact he will make in Cleveland Browns’ history.