Coach of the year: Kevin Stefanski

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns
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Compelling arguments can be made this year in favor of many NFL head coaches for the official coach of the year award, for two reasons. First, there were many very good NFL head coaches this year. Second, the standard for this award continues to be very loose and vague.

What does it mean to be coach of the year? From 2001 through 2018, Bill Belichick could have been coach of the year almost every year. The rough understanding seems to be that the award goes to the coach whose team most exceeds it generally accepted expectations for the year.

Under that standard, which we’ll borrow for our own coach of the year award, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski deserves to be the PFT coach of the year. Without the benefit of an offseason program or preseason games, Stefanski gradually, deliberately, and inevitably crafted a winning program from a team that grossly underachieved in 2019. The effort started simply by winning the games that they should. It culminated in winning multiple games that they should have lost, first against the Colt and most notably against the Titans.

Stefanski fixed the various flaws in quarterback Baker Mayfield‘s game. When the Browns lost receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. for the season, the Browns (after initially struggling against the Raiders without OBJ) didn’t miss a beat. And they took full advantage of their bye week to address flaws, to focus on strengths, and to keep pushing toward a grossly unexpected 11-5 record in one of the toughest divisions in football — and Cleveland’s first postseason berth since 2002.

The latter days of the season have been marred by COVID-19 infections that began as community spread and became a full-blown outbreak. Stefanski won’t be available for the playoff game, which undoubtedly will prove his value to the team.

He’ll continue to prove his value in the coming years. This isn’t an aberration or a blip on the radar screen. This is the arrival of the Browns as a force to be reckoned with. They should improve, not regress, in 2021 and beyond.

Others who merit consideration for the award include, most notably, Packers coach Matt LaFleur. He walked two years ago into a jambalaya of dysfunction and he has steered the team toward consecutive 13-3 records. He won’t get the votes that he should for the official award, because we’ve already come to expect LaFleur to thrive.

Ditto for Bills coach Sean McDermott, who has turned the Bills into, currently, the best team in the NFL. A playoff berth was presumed and a division title was likely. The ascension to dominance was not. McDermott deserves credit for that.

Others who did much better than the expectations would have suggested include Washington coach Ron Rivera, who fought through cancer to take an overmatched roster to an unlikely division title, Saints coach Sean Payton, Dolphins coach Brian Flores, and Chiefs coach Andy Reid, whose team consistently faced the best that every opponent had to offer — and consistently won.

In the end, there can only be one winner, however. In a year with several impressive coaching performances, Stefanski stands out.

49 responses to “Coach of the year: Kevin Stefanski

  1. What did people expect the Browns record to be this season?
    What did people expect the Dolphins record to be this season?

    Which teams had the most talent when the season started?

    Feels like the Steelers let the Browns into the playoffs

    Just my opinion

  2. McDermott would have had the Bills 14-2 if our guys broke up the “hail Murray”.

    Stefanski had the Browns going 11-5 with 4 free wins against the NFC East.

  3. How ’bout Bears coach Matt Nagy who survived a six game losing streak, was saddled with questionable QB play from both Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky, has a fan base that wants to run him out of town, and yet still guided his team to the playoffs!?

  4. “From 2001 through 2018, Bill Belichick could have been coach of the year almost every year”

    Quite obvious now it was all Brady.

  5. If it wasn’t for the last game against Buffalo, and the Dolphins would have won and made the playoffs, it would have been Brian Flores, as he did more with much less than Stefanski.

  6. Well written, Florio. LaFleur should have won it last year. This year, it’s all Stefanski.

  7. The Browns went 11-5 while allowing more points than they scored. Methinks they will regress next year.

  8. I think he is a good choice. I also think Judge deserved some consideration (top 5?) got the award, because I really like what I’m seeing with the Giants, but there were ultimately too many good candidates this year

  9. I agree with this but would put McDermott at a close #2. McD is “coach of the last three years” if you look at where there were and where they are.

  10. Certainly deserving of this PFT award. It is a shame that he will not be able to experience his first playoff game as HC from the sidelines. As a Steelers fan, I hope he does not get the chance next week. Still, his work this year is commendable. Fantastic to have 3 teams from the AFC North in the playoffs.

  11. Truly believe that Riverboat Ron should be the hands down winner across the board. Not to slight or downplay Stefanski’s efforts, but he did inherit one heck of a roster.

  12. So barely making the playoffs with all that talent is more of an accomplishment than Flores winning 10 games a year after the dolphins were tanking? With the talent Cleveland has on both sides of the ball, a wild card birth is expected. Coach Flores did a lot more with a lot less.

  13. I’d give it to McDermott. He actually oversaw the rebuilding of that team and has consistently improved it every year he’s been there. Stefanski has done a good job but walked into a stacked roster situation with a low bar.

  14. Stefanski absolutely deserves it. The arguments for other coaches fall flat when you consider they are returning after establishing their culture. Coach Stefanski didn’t even have a chance to have training camp and won 11 games with a team that simply does not do that. Also, the team improved consistently throughout the year. That’s the sign of good coaching, and with all the stuff happening with COVID this year and how unique the season is, I am not sure you can give it to anyone other than Stefanski. First time head coach on a historically bad franchise with all the chips stacked against him? And he goes 11-5 and ends an 18 year playoff drought? I don’t think this award is close.

  15. Can’t really argue with this, though “force to be reckoned with” seems a bit hyperbole when talking about the Browns. This year could well end up the aberration for all we know at the moment. Still, top notch coaching job and congratulations to Browns fans for finally having a playoff team.

  16. Should have been Flores. Stefanski had the pieces in place that just needed direction. Flores was still building a team and got them a last game loss from the playoffs.

  17. “11 & 5 record in one of the toughest divisions in football”
    Let’s inspect their schedule
    Swept the NFC East – 4 Wins
    Beat Cincy twice – 2 Wins
    Beat 2 teams with fired HC – Jax and Hou – 2 Wins
    Beat Pittsburgh who sat their starters – 1 Win
    9 of the 11 wins were gifts. THey did not have a tough schedule.
    They did have nice wins vs TEN & IND, but also lost to the Jets, and were swept bay Baltimore and lost to Pittsburgh when they were playing their guys.
    I’m not saying he didn’t deserve the award. I’m just saying lets not pretend they had a tough schedule when they didn’t.

    Next, he didn’t fix Baker Mayfield. Mayfield had a 93.7 QB rating in 2018, and a 95.9 rating in 2020. Not much improvement. He played bad in 2019 because he had a bad head coach in Kinchens

  18. Don’t understand why this award doesn’t include the post season. All of the coaches considered in this post are worthy, if Stefanski team beats McDermott in the playoffs, he’s earned the award. Same goes for every other coach being considered.

  19. edouble,

    The Browns got a lot of one year contracts in free agency this year. We will focus on the defense in the off-season as this is a huge weakness for us as you stated with points.

  20. This was the only true choice. This is why learning math is important for the detractors here. Based on percentages the number of winnable games on Cleveland’s schedule prior to the season starting was literally 1 (the Jets game they ironically lost thanks to covid). Every other game they played they were considered pre kickoff either far inferior to their opponent or equal to them and that’s before injuries and covid hit their top three players and their starting QB at almost the exact same time mid season leading to the embarrassing blowout to the Steelers and the loss to the Raiders. That means Stefanski got a team that at best was believed to be a 6 or 7 win team 11 wins and a playoff spot without needing the 7th seed. People are acting like everyone expected them to be good as if two months ago people weren’t calling Baker Mayfield a draft bust and swearing the Browns couldn’t beat any real teams.

  21. Remember at the start of the season, all the talk was about how the Browns were going to use analytics so much that Stefanski would almost have to ask permission before he called a play. That take didn’t age to well.

  22. Terrible. Should have been Flores or anybody else. Browns were supposed to win this year. #1 head coaches don’t lose to the Jets when they need to get in the playoffs.

  23. mrfrostyj says:
    January 8, 2021 at 10:03 am

    covid hit their top three players and their starting QB at almost the exact same time mid season leading to the embarrassing blowout to the Steelers and the loss to the Raiders.
    Baker Mayfield was placed on the COVID-19 Reserve list on November 8th, 21 days after the Pittsburgh game and 7 days after the Raiders game. Those 2 losses were in large part due to Mayfield’s play. The offense produced 1 TD and 2 FGs in those 2 games.

  24. First playoff game since 2002
    First 11 season since 1994
    People say the play the nfc East and had it easy. Most years the browns would be lucky to end up 2-2 or 1-3. They had most of the players already. The big difference was the oline on of the worse last year to one of the best units in the nfl. You don’t need a stud qb to win games, you need the offense line to win games.

  25. Not arguing that he deserved to win but how about a mention for Pete Carroll? Turns around a D that was on pace to be the worst ever! Plus not one player with COVID. That deserves a mention on it’s own. Just saying…

  26. Its high time Matt Lefleur get the award after two consecutive 13-3 season,two NFCN crowns and taking his team to the playoffs every year since becoming head coach.experts said the Packers would falter this season but thanks to ML they thrived once again.

  27. Pffft, there were better candidates. Browns will be brushed aside this weekend by the Steelers.

  28. Nice, like it. There will always be controversy, granted, and you could go on about Flores, Lefleur, or any number of others, heck even Andy Reid with another great season, or in Buffalo McDermott but Stefanski went in and turned it around, he turned Mayfield around which in itself is a great accomplishment. Any other year I’d say Flores, but scoreboard Dolphin fans, Browns are in the playoffs and you are not.

  29. As along time Minnesota Viking die-hard, everyone from Brian Billik to Mike Tomlin to Stefan Diggs to Kevin Stafanski etc move on to great success and we’re stuck with lemons-incredible………..

  30. Stacked roster.✔
    Easiest schedule.✔
    We’re let into the playoffs.✔

    Coach of the Year? Ok,✔

  31. Vikings like to watch all their great asst coaches go elsewhere and fully succeed, as if the cuts can’t get any deeper being a fan of this organization..

  32. There isn’t a clear cut winner this year in my opinion. Stefanski is a solid candidate but as an earlier comment laid out, their schedule was weak. The Browns basically had 2 solid wins, and were the victims of several blowouts. And they are projected to be one and done in the playoffs. Meh. If Flores finished strong he would be another strong candidate but getting blown off the field in week 17 and missing the playoffs because of it leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. There is also the whole Tua thing, the guy looked terrible and realistically they should have kept starting Fitz. McDermott and Lafleur are strong candidates for the reasons stated in the article. Reid’s team is excellent but realistically they were underachieving a lot this year. Tough call.

  33. Matt Lefleur has done a good job, but when you have the league MVP, you are not going to get as many votes for coach of the year.

  34. 😂 Stefanski was handed a Ferrari, while Flores drives a Chevy; a year after driving a Yugo.

  35. “Stefanski won’t be available for the playoff game, which undoubtedly will prove his value to the team.”

    This didn’t age well. The Browns set a playoff record for most points in the first quarter.

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