CLEVELAND — What will be the deciding factor in the Cleveland Browns’ coaching search?
That is the question being asked by fans and reporters alike as the search rolls on into its ninth day, but we may have a clue as to how this decision eventually will play out, and of course, internal discord is at the forefront.
According to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com, a league source says factions have formed within the organization as the “football people” (led by general manager John Dorsey) and “analytics guys” (under the direction of chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta) each have candidates at the top of their lists and the names do not match.
Currently, there are two finalists for the job, interim offensive coordinators Freddie Kitchens (Browns) and Kevin Stefanski (Minnesota Vikings).
Kitchens was the Browns’ final interview in the first round, while Stefanski was the third candidate brought in during the process. Stefanski was called back to Berea Tuesday for a second round of questioning with the search committee.
“For now, the thinking is that Dorsey (and Mayfield) prefer Kitchens, and that DePodesta prefers Stefanski to Kitchens,” Florio wrote. “However it plays out, this may not end up being the kind of inspired hire that Mayfield’s presence could have sparked.
“That inspired hire may have to wait until the next time the Browns are looking, which, as history tells us, could come sooner than later.”
Prior to the dismissals of coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley on October 29, the Browns averaged 21.125 points per game and were outscored by more than five points per outing.
Once Kitchens took over the play-calling duties, the Browns showed improvement in points per game scored. The Browns averaged 23.75 points per game, up more than 2.5 per outing.
Under Kitchens’ direction, rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield completed 180 of his 263 attempts (68.4 percent) for 2,254 yards and 19 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Mayfield averaged 281.75 yards and 2.375 touchdowns per game with Kitchens calling the plays.
Stefanski is a long-time NFL assistant with the Vikings, where he most recently served as a replacement play-caller after previously mentoring the quarterbacks, running backs and tight ends in 13 seasons with the club. The Vikings’ longest-tenured assistant coach, Stefanski replaced former Browns assistant John DeFilippo as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator late in the 2018 regular season.
Stefanski has helped the Vikings to a 107-99-2 record during his 13 years in Minnesota. Since Stefanski arrived in 2006, the Vikings have made five trips to the postseason, including two appearances in the NFC Championship Game and brought home four NFC North Division championships.
With Stefanski on staff, the Vikings won 10 or more games five times, including the second-best finish in franchise history. The 2017 Vikings posted a 13-3 record, which ranks second only to the 15-1 mark set by the 1998 team.