Amidst A Season Of Change, Kevin Stefanski Won’T Change Who Calls The Plays On Offense

Kevin Stefanski will call plays on offense for the fourth straight year. (TheLandOnDemand)

Kevin Stefanski will call plays on offense for the fourth straight year. (TheLandOnDemand)

Amidst a season of change, Kevin Stefanski won’t change who calls the plays on offense

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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.


It’s been an offseason of change for Kevin Stefanski as he embarks on his fourth year as Browns coach.

For the first time, he fired two coaches, Joe Woods and Mike Priefer, coordinators of his defense and special teams, whom he’s known a long time, and replaced them with Jim Schwartz and Ray “Bubba” Ventrone.

He shuffled his offensive staff, bringing in one of his early mentors, Bill Musgrave, for some unspecified senior role, and assigning Callie Brownson more responsibility as the full-time assistant wide receivers coach.

“I think sometimes change can be good,” Stefanski said Wednesday in the media room at the NFL Combine.

But one thing will not change. Stefanski will not hand over play-calling duties on offense.

He will continue to be glued in on game days to the elaborate, laminated play-sheet that resembles a Denny’s menu in complexity and choices.

It’s not that Stefanski is not good at calling plays. The problem is he loses touch with other elements of a game that affect the outcome. Eagles coach Nick Sirianni and Giants coach Brian Daboll – offensive-minded coaches like Stefanski – last season delegated play-calling to get a more global view of their teams on game days. 

At the conclusion of the disappointing 2022 season that ended with another inept offensive performance in a loss in Pittsburgh, Stefanski hinted that he would consider doing the same.

“[I’m] open to anything that will help our football team,” Stefanski said at his season recap press conference on January 9.

But, nah, it ain’t happening.

“I will [call plays], yes,” Stefanski said firmly on Wednesday.

“Why is that so important to you?” I asked him.

“I don’t think it is important to me,” he responded “I think it is important to do what is right for the team. I feel like that is the right thing to do for the team.”

“Is it more important now for you to be the play-caller because [quarterback] Deshaun Watson will be available for the first time with the Browns for a full offseason and full real season,” I asked.

“Not in that lens,” Stefanski answered. “I just feel like it is the right thing to do.”

And that’s the way it is.

A busy summer

Another change for Stefanski is having the Browns participate in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game August 3 against the New York Jets. It gives Stefanski a fourth preseason game to ready his team for the season and will force him to script his training camp and preseason routine accordingly.

Stefanski views the extra game – a week ahead of 30 other teams – more as a means to celebrate the induction of franchise legend left tackle Joe Thomas into the Hall of Fame than a special opportunity to accelerate his team’s development.

“We are very fortunate to be able to play in that game. I think it is an unbelievable honor to do so,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to celebrate Joe’s career. That part we are excited about. Heading down there to Canton, I have done it before when I was with the Vikings. What we will do is we will end our offseason program a week early in June and then go back about a week early in July. We will start a little bit earlier and then get the team ready for the season.”

The additional game did not alter Stefanski’s desire to engage the NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles again in two days of joint practices prior to their preseason meeting.

The Browns hosted the Eagles last summer. Stefanski confirmed the Browns will head to the Eagles camp prior to playing them in Preseason Week 2. This would actually be the Browns’ Preseason Game 3, so they will have a week at home and probably play their second preseason game following the Hall of Fame game.

Preseason play time changes?

Considering Watson’s ongoing need to shake off rust from his infamous 700-day layoff and also the team’s need to develop a chemistry with Watson that never occurred in the six games he played in 2022, you would think Stefanski would want to give Watson more reps in preseason games than the coach has given his starting quarterbacks in the past.

I asked if we might see Watson actually play in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton.

“Potentially,” he said. “I think that is something that we need to work through, obviously. Everything when it comes to our preseason, every year, you have to have everything on the table before you decide.”

I asked if he’s reconsidered additional play time for starters in preseason games after evaluating last season’s methods.

“I think you rethink everything, yes, but I don’t know that there was one right way to do it,” Stefanski said. “You try to make some decisions and learn from them, and where we can be better, we will try to be better.”

Translation: We’d rather enter the season healthy and rusty than risk injury in preseason games.

Brownie bits

Stefanski had some private time with Watson during the week after the last game. Per CBA rules, they can’t have meetings or even talk football until the offseason program convenes in April. But Stefanski said they’ve kept in touch. What did they accomplish in meetings prior to the CBA dead period? “I think just getting on the same page on everything,” he said. “How we meet, how we structure practice, making sure he's comfortable with different things. So I think we, I know we're seeing the game very similarly. I think he's very excited about what we're going to be doing offensively, what we'll be doing as a team, and I think he's excited to go play some football in the spring and summer.” …

On Tuesday, GM Andrew Berry said he preferred the Browns’ replacement for Jacoby Brissett as backup quarterback to be someone capable of winning a game or two, if needed. I asked Stefanski if that eliminated Kellen Mond, the only other QB currently under contract, who has appeared briefly in one game with the Vikings before joining the Browns. “No, I don’t think so,” he said. “I think all options are available to us there. With young players, obviously, Kellen, hasn’t played in that setting, but we will see how far he comes along. To say that he can’t win that job, I don’t think it is fair to say that on March 1. He is a young player who we need to see certainly more of.” …

While the Browns would like to re-sign free agent center Ethan Pocic, it’s more likely he will receive offers beyond their price point and sign elsewhere. If that happens, it sounds like the Browns’ Plan B would be to stage a competition between Nick Harris and Michael Dunn and Hjalte Froholdt – assuming those backup linemen are re-signed. “I think we have great options,” Stefanski said. “Nick Harris is rehabbing and doing a great job. He is probably in the building as we speak. We have different guys who have played the position, and we will see how it all shapes out.”