EAGAN, Minn. -- Thank you, Cleveland.
If that wasn’t among the first thoughts by Minnesota Vikings brass after news broke that the Browns intend to hire Freddie Kitchens as their next head coach, it should have been.
The move, which leaked Wednesday, effectively kept the Vikings from enduring a long, painstaking process of finding their next offensive coordinator. It saved them a lot of headaches by paving the way for Kevin Stefanski, who interviewed for the same position as Kitchens, to return to the post he assumed one month ago Friday upon the firing of John DeFilippo.
On Friday, Stefanski was introduced for the first time without the interim tag attached to his offensive coordinator title. It's a fresh start for a promising offensive mind who had earned himself two head coaching interviews after just three games as a playcaller.
"He’s a bright, young coach," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "Very detailed. He’s already given me a list of everything that we’ve got to go through now until training camp. It’s been good. He’s been here for a long time. Great addition to our staff and we’re excited to have him."
With the way things look elsewhere on staff, the Vikings should be thrilled at this outcome. It is, in effect, the best-case scenario for Minnesota’s offense in moving on from a season that went south.
A head coach going into the final year of his contract wasn’t expected to have many eager candidates for the offensive coordinator job. Zimmer’s lame-duck status isn’t the only thing that might have convoluted this search -- he's on his fourth offensive coordinator in four years, and two of them left in the middle of a season.
But Stefanski knows the situation in Minnesota better than anyone else who could have been hired. He lived it, and he’s now tasked with sorting out where things went wrong during a season that stumbled from Super Bowl expectations to an 8-7-1 finish.
The interview process he went through with Cleveland over the past two weeks prepared him for potential future head-coaching opportunities if he gets things turned around in Minnesota.
"It was a good experience to go through and I’m exactly where I need to be, exactly where I want to be," Stefanski said. "I’m happy to have gone through it, but this is a special opportunity here. It’s a special group that we have and I’m excited to get started."
Stefanski didn’t delve into his big-picture outlook for the offense and whether the scheme will look the same in 2019. It’s too soon, Stefanski said, to make those kinds of proclamations. But it’s never too early to dissect what went wrong and how he can begin to put the pieces back together.
The hiring of Stefanski was likely welcome news to quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has had to adapt to constantly changing ideas, philosophies and schemes over the past few seasons. Instead of having to work with a fifth playcaller in four years, Cousins will hear a familiar voice in his helmet. That's a best-case scenario for an offense that isn’t certain of the ceiling with its $84 million quarterback.
Continuity and consistency are the axioms that surround an offense trying to move past the litany of ups and downs it has faced. Now Stefanski has an entire offseason to figure out the direction in which he wants to take the offense.
It’s a direction he says will be a "shared vision" between him and his boss. Entering his 14th season with the Vikings as the longest-tenured coach on staff, Stefanski has been along for every step of the Zimmer era. He knows Zimmer wants to run the ball. He also understands where the NFL stands as a passing league.
"I think what coach Zim talked about was balance," Stefanski said. "That’s going to be what we want to do moving forward. We just don’t want to be predictable. So I can’t tell you we’re always going to run it or always going to pass it. We’re going to try to be balanced and not be predictable."
Stefanski’s 10-minute news conference offered more buzzwords than direct answers as to how the Vikings offense will change. But it's clear there’s much work to be done for an organization that should be thankful it got a second chance this offseason to land the guy they wanted for the job all along.