Courtney CroninESPN Staff WriterClose
- Covered the 49ers, Raiders and Warriors for the San Jose Mercury News. She joined ESPN in 2017.
MINNEAPOLIS — One day after his contract expired, Kevin Stefanski is returning to Minnesota to take over offensive coordinator duties for the Vikings on a full-time basis, the team announced Wednesday.
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 past 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.
“Kevin is a smart young coach with a bright future,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said in a statement. “I’m happy to have him take over the offensive coordinator job. His work ethic and teaching ability have been obvious to me behind the scenes since I came here five years ago. He’s well respected by coaches and players both and I know he’s up to the task.”
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).
“I was thrilled to hear that he’d be back,” Cousins said. “We feel like the continuity is very important, not only for me at the quarterback position but for our entire offense, for the young players learning the system and for our coaching staff to have the familiarity, as well.”
Stefanski, 36, 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.
“On game day, he’s riding with all his guys and he plays aggressive,” Diggs said. “He’s not scared of anything, and he believes we can do anything, as far as running the ball well, throwing the ball well, whatever it is, he has confidence in us and we appreciate it.”
Stefanski is the longest-tenured coach on staff, having joined on in Minnesota under Brad Childress in 2006 as an assistant to the head coach. Stefanski has since coached tight ends, running backs and quarterbacks before getting his first shot at calling plays in 2018.
“When we do get back, we’re going to be 110 percent in for him,” running back Dalvin Cook said. “Everything we’re going to do, we’re going to have fun. But we’re going to raise the bar up to his level.”