EAGAN, Minn. -- On the cusp of calling plays for the first time in his career, Minnesota Vikings interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski is dealing with the whirlwind that comes with his sudden promotion after the firing of John DeFilippo on Tuesday.
With little time to waste on a short week, Stefanski turned his attention toward installing a game plan for the Miami Dolphins. He's not focused on how different Minnesota’s offense, which ranks 24th in offensive efficiency, might look going forward.
"I think it remains to be seen," Stefanski said. "We’re not looking to change anything. We’re looking to put together a game plan that gives us some success on Sunday, plays complementary football, play the style of football that we can play here and not really worry about what it is or isn’t."
Stefanski steps into the role he hoped to assume last offseason when he interviewed for the Vikings' offensive coordinator opening after Pat Shurmur became the head coach of the New York Giants. That job went to DeFilippo and the Vikings blocked Stefanski from interviewing for the same position on Shurmur’s staff.
Stefanski has been preparing to call plays long before he was thrust into his new role.
"As an assistant coach, I think every assistant coach and probably every fan is calling the plays with the playcaller," Stefanski said. "So sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. But we’re up there, you’re always thinking about what you may be calling in that situation. I’ve tried to do that since Day 1 as a coach. I think that’s incumbent upon you to take yourself through what you may do here. The playcalling thing, I’m going to, again, rely on, we have a great staff and we have good players, and I’m going to steal a line from Pat Shurmur, ‘It’s about the players and not the plays.’ So it’s something that we’re going to work on Sunday and let it go."
The longest-tenured member of the Vikings’ coaching staff, Stefanski has worked with a handful of offensive coordinators over the past 13 seasons. Pulling on what he’s learned from DeFilippo, Shurmur and Norv Turner, among others, and implementing certain concepts into his own playcalling could be one part of how the Vikings turn around their offense these final three games. Stefanski knows exactly what the identity of this offense needs to become.
Under Shurmur, the Vikings ranked second in designed rush percentage (45 percent) in 2017, but that figure dropped to 29 percent this season. Their 85.4 rushing yards per game ranks 30th in the NFL, and for weeks Zimmer has been saying he wants to see his offense run the ball more.
"I think Coach Zim has been pretty clear about what he wants in his offense," he said. "It’s the Minnesota Vikings offense. It’s a physical group, and it really just matches the players that Coach Zimmer and [GM] Rick [Spielman] have acquired here. It’s a physical group, it’s a smart group that hopefully we’re versatile enough to make it hard on the defense."
Zimmer expects Kirk Cousins to evolve under his new playcaller -- who served as the team's quarterbacks coach -- and be open to "suggesting things a little bit more" given his established relationship with Stefanski.
But Stefanski hopes it's more than just Cousins who speaks up. He suggested that a democratic approach with a constant back-and-forth between players and their coach would yield success, which is similar to Shurmur's message last season.
"I think Kirk’s always been vocal about what he likes, doesn’t like, and I’ve encouraged him to continue to do that," Stefanski said. "On that note, we’re really fortunate to have a lot of smart players here -- Kyle Rudolph, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, you can kind of go across the board. I’m open to suggestions from all those guys because they’re the ones out there doing it. I have a really good dialogue, we as a staff have a really good dialogue with those guys and I hope that continues."