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The 2020 Dynasty-Fantasy and NFL Impact of New Browns Head Coach Kevin Stefanski

February 4, 2020 10:31 AM
February 4, 2020 12:03 PM

*Sorry in advance...I went into my studies to do research on Kevin Stefanski and his potential impact on the Browns for fantasy (primarily), to see what we could glean...but there wasn't a lot of fruit to pick and I ended up going in somewhat of a whole other direction -- this piece represents that the fantasy issue/confusion we all have trying to interpret Stefanski and his new staff, and the impact to Baker, etc. Anyone who thinks they definitely know what Stefanski will do/what impact he will have...I do't know how they could feel confident about it. You'll see what I mean...

If I were to sum up the Browns hiring of Kevin Stefanski, in a nutshell, it would be – it might be the most meaningless coaching hire in the history of football.

We’ll dig into Kevin Stefanski’s background and outlook here but looking at the Stefanski hire for fantasy and handicapping purposes ahead – he has very little, obvious impact. If you’re expecting a 37-year old Ivy Leaguer who has coordinated for 1.25 NFL seasons and worked in just one organization his whole career to come in and quickly change the organizational cesspool that is the Cleveland Browns…you’re kidding yourself.

I know it’s cheap and easy to target the Browns’ organization, but they have earned it. Under owner Jimmy Haslam they have been the embarrassment of the league, the poster child for mismanagement. There is no plan…only ever-changing plans that have no time to prosper, so they quickly fail, and are quickly replaced with ‘the opposite’ of the last failed plan.

The Browns’ organization, Jimmy Haslam as owner – they have told us who they are since he bought the team in 2020…the team is 21-75-1 under Haslam’s ‘leadership’. Every person you would respect who has worked for the Browns in recent years has nothing good to say about the experience. The three people that standout to me from the Browns’ past are…

1) Mike Pettine – the best head coach the Browns ever had in the Haslam era, and they foisted Johnny Manziel on him…the owner drafted Manziel, supposedly, because a homeless person told him to outside a restaurant (his story, not mine, per Sal Paolantonio). Pettine didn’t want Manziel, and a team that was starting to win under Pettine/Brian Hoyer (1st place for a bit) ended up a fiery wreckage with Manziel under center for a bit. Pettine was ultimately fired and has never wanted to be a head coach since…in part, jaded from his Browns’ experience.

Pettine would go on to help Seattle behind the scenes as a special advisor (2016-18), and then revamped the Green Bay defense as their D-C (2018-curr.) to help them get to the Final Four this season.

2) Kyle Shanahan – the best coaching prospect the team had floating around as an assistant during the Haslam era…a guy right under their own noses. And Shanahan just up and quit after one season – not fired, quit. How rare is it for a coach to just leave? The mandate came down that Manziel would start no matter what in John Football’s second season…and Shanahan, to his credit, just abruptly resigned.

Shanahan then joined the Falcons as O-C, and helped lead them to the Super Bowl two years later. And, obviously, just got the 49ers into the Super Bowl.

3) Mike Lombardi – hired as GM of the Browns in 2013, fired a year later. It was Lombardi who identified, recommended, and brought in Shanahan to the Browns as their O-C (and then Lombardi was dumped soon after). Lombardi then re-joined the Patriots as a Belichick advisor after that…part of a title wins. Belichick calls Lombardi “One of the smartest people I’ve worked with.” So, smart…he lasted one whole year as Browns GM. To hear Lombardi talk about the behind-the-scenes issues with Jimmy Haslam and the whole organization is comical, tragic, and a masterclass on how screwed up the whole situation is.

The Browns have hired good football people, wittingly or unwittingly…and none of them ever have sustained success (or any success). These people have success before and after their Browns stint…so did they just get dumb in Cleveland? Of course not. It’s the Jimmy Haslam regime that is killing everything off – it’s why I said the hiring of Stefanski is inconsequential. Whether Stefanski is good, great, or awful as a head coach candidate…it doesn’t matter. He will ultimately fail because of the organization he is in.

Even the Browns see Stefanski as a ‘doesn’t matter’. Stefanski was hired as the front for ‘special advisor’ Paul DePodesta to run things. NFL teams/owners tend to terminate a failed coach/staff and replace it with something the 180 degrees opposite as an overreaction. If a defensive minded coach fails, they hire an offensive one. If a prior failed coach is too player friendly, they hire a ball buster the next go round. Cleveland has tried ‘football guys’ and ‘highly recommended’ and ‘Moneyball mix with football guys’ and ‘player’s coach’…and nothing has worked. Now, they are going with the opposite of the sloppy, jovial country bumpkin appearance of Freddie Kitchens to all physically fit Ivy league smart guys to go full analytics. Nothing else has worked, so why not?

Everything in Cleveland is done trying to fix/solve everything but the real problem – the owner. *See too: the Dallas Cowboys.

Now, everyone is going to debate the virtue of analytics running an NFL team. People pick sides on analytics v. football gut instinct/experience like they pick sides on Republican vs. Democrat. They love THEIR team for their own reasons and thus have to hate the other side at every turn. Analytics is not the full answer. Football experience is not the full answer. Honestly, I don’t know what the real answer is. I think it’s whomever your quarterback is, what your schedule was (favorable or not), and how healthy you stayed in-season. Coaching, at its best, has little-to-no impact…just stay out of the way/don’t restrict the talent (if you possess talent).

Honestly, the past 10+ years of the NFL has been Bill Belichick domination and everyone else as random events for a short stretch, events that are never sustainable for that long. If you have a generational QB talent, or close to it…you have a chance to win the Super Bowl in this current era. Everything else seems to be noise and random events.

It helps if the coach doesn’t get in the way/mismanages things. It helps if the GM can identify talent, but there has been no draft guru NFL exec who constantly kills the draft and develops mega teams…a team will randomly have a great draft one year, and then have an utter joke draft the next go round. The 49ers’ drafts have been pretty bad/weak (overall) under Kyle Shanahan…yet, there they were in the Super Bowl. Bill Belichick doesn’t have great drafts. He does identify talent others overlook once they are in the league. Belichick has in-demand assistant coaches, who then mostly fail when decoupled from him. The Patriots have a certain locker room culture…and that’s on Belichick. I don’t see another Belichick roaming around the NFL…and there may never be one.

The league for the past decade+ has been Belichick domination and everything else as random events of good or bad luck. Kevin Stefanski is not Bill Belichick, not by a long shot…and even if he could be – he won’t last long enough to find out in Cleveland. It was the Browns who also possessed Belichick (and Mike Lombardi) and they fired them too. The organization hasn’t been the same since.

So, the Browns have now hired a bunch of Ivy Leaguers to put a great face/bios on the organizational page of their website, and they can all be in a room and talk about data/analytics all week, but if the new staff cannot control the locker room and the organization panics (again) at the first sign of failure… this will fail quickly. Like it has all the time under Haslam.

You can ace the SATs and have super-high IQ’s, but Penn and Harvard don’t really teach you how to deal with a highly-paid diva superstar like Odell Beckham Jr. in the Year of Our Lord 2020. Baker Mayfield is not the type of quarterback Ivy leaguers would like either…they would want high IQ grinders, like the staff and their backgrounds reflect. Baker is just naturally good, not 25 hours a day studying tape good. It’s the wrong staff for this current player group – and the fix will be, in this case, re-re-re-re-overhauling the roster. Another ‘3-5 year plan’ has just gotten underway…but the people running it will probably be fired/replaced by year two --which is the sad repeating story of the Cleveland Browns under Jimmy Haslam...

Ex-Browns’ GM Sashi Brown (no real football experience) was brought in to bring ‘Moneyball’ to the draft…it failed (and maybe it was Hue Jackson’s coaching fault). Ex-Browns’ GM John Dorsey was an old football guy (the opposite of ‘analytics’ GM) brought in to clean that up…so he systematically got rid of almost every player from the Sashi Brown era. Now, Dorsey has been deemed to have failed with ‘his type of guys’…so, this new staff will want to gut all of Dorsey’s radical/troubled personalities and replace them with ‘their type of guys’ – a more upper crust, Ivy League approach. Loudmouths who talk too much and those who skip training camps will be out. Grinder, high IQ guys will be brought in. I’m not saying one way is right or wrong, just noting this current roster is about to be overhauled…again.

If this new staff tries to make it work with OBJ-Landry-Baker it would be a HUGE mistake, and a comedy 2.0 version of the 2019 season would happen in 2020. I suspect they will ditch OBJ this offseason, for sure, and likely Jarvis Landry as well – contract-wise, they are both EASY to cut or move. Baker will probably be a 2021 trade (possibly 2020 if they had any guts in their real desires to revamp everything) or it will be a Baker just ‘wants out’ type of situation. Baker is not going to suffer for long this conservative, button-upped ‘management is smarter than the players’ approach.

Baker Mayfield is going to be the perfect scapegoat for this new staff. As the new management overhauls the roster, losses will continue, and that won’t bother management because they can hide behind ‘rebuilding’/fixing the previous mess. In another year, they can move Baker as part of that…it buys the new management more time to ‘fix things/clean things up’. The team will be losing, Baker will have been working with an ever-changing staff his whole career, and Baker is smart -- he’ll want out and away from this organization, and I think he already does/sees the writing of what this organization will do to his career. I think Baker plays out 2020, inches closer to his free agency and quietly or loudly wants out. He can’t say it now, be the complainer with the new coach, but he can in 2021 if they fail in 2020. Look for Baker to be dealt (to New England if Belichick is still there) in 2021. For sure, by 2022 opening day, I believe Baker is likely long gone from Cleveland.

Do you really think Kevin Stefanski (and new GM Andrew Berry) walks in and changes everything to a winner in two years? Based on what? That this mild-mannered 37-year old with no head coaching experience at any level comes in and straightens out OBJ-Landry-Kareem Hunt-Myles Garrett-Baker and builds a winner immediately? It’s never going to happen. They’re going to gut many of those guys anyway…because they’ll want THEIR stamp on the organization. It’s a minimum of 2-3 years rebuild/gut the roster and by then Baker will be in flux and they could be looking for a new franchise QB as well. Stefanski won’t last 2-3 years of losing, no more than anyone else has recently.

Stefanski has no pedigree, no system, no top of organization experience to pull this off…Bill Belichick couldn’t survive this organization. Stefanski has a politician’s personality. He says all the right things, while saying nothing. He’ll be to work at 3am and leave at 2am, I’m sure. But all that couldn’t help him from having a public revolt by Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, about the offensive play calling issues, last season. To hear Mike Zimmer talk, it seemed like everything good that happened in Minnesota was due to Gary Kubiak. Stefanksi was just ‘there’.

To hear some inside people talk, Stefanski was hired by the Browns because many of the top or other coaching choices didn’t even want to interview with Cleveland, or did so only to help drive their market value up elsewhere. Legit coaching candidates didn’t want to sign a deal with the devil in Cleveland. All the other head coaching job openings in the NFL the past two seasons…there was no great love for Kevin Stefanski. The Browns had limited choices and preferred to hire someone they could control…the owner and advisor Paul DePodesta wanted a lapdog figurehead – they got it. I would have taken the deal for that money as well, if I were Stefanski. Why not take the money and take a beating and bank it all and then do what you want with your life after…whether O-C or college coach or whatever. Just note, those coaching prospects with options – steered way clear of Cleveland. Stefanski getting hired here doesn’t make him special.

It all sounds like a great foundation for this marriage...

What effect will Stefanski have on the fantasy outputs in 2020 and beyond? No clue. We have two great unknowns – no one knows what Stefanski really stands for in an offense or what his system is, etc. Mike Zimmer and Gary Kubiak pulled the strings and Stefanski was the dutiful employee from there. I’ve observed Stefanski in on-field communications with players and watched/studied his interviews – he’s every good, forgettable employee or coach you’ve ever seen. He doesn’t have a wild personality. He isn’t a wallflower. He’s just a straightforward, monotoned, nose buried in a play sheet…always willing to ‘yes, sir…no, sir’ and do his job. No one knows what he sees in players, his ability to scout them, or deal with difficult ones. All we’ve seen is in 2019 with his first full year coordinating opportunity – Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs complained early on, and then changes were kinda made to pacify them…which is not a crime. Mid-level bosses exist to pacify employees…especially ones making 10-30x what he does. It’s just odd that 2-3 weeks into a season that the top players are throwing a public hissy fit…and one of them is not prone to do so (Thielen). It shows some level of a lack of respect for the O-C/staff and frustration with the plan they worked on all offseason.

You can’t ‘blame’ (good or bad) Stefanski for Cousins or Cook or Thielen or Rudolph 2019. He was just there to call plays the way Zimmer-Kubiak told him to. The Vikings were average in most offensive categories. The offense leaned heavily toward the running game…but that’s Kubiak and Zimmer. I assume Stefanski will lean that way too, but who knows…he’s never really been in charge of anything solo responsible. Stefanski is coming in like Matt Nagy – limited experience in being charge, hard worker, likable, looked like a genius after year one, looked like an idiot after year two and just fired most of his offensive staff. Random events. Nagy has no ‘system’…he’s mimicking what he was taught in a protected vacuum and trying organize fun practices and run a locker room – meanwhile the offense is terrible, and he supposedly has an offensive background…but not really, he was just a diligent ‘jobber’ who worked in football and worked hard. Nagy had no real head coaching experience or developed system or scouting talent experience, etc. Nagy was another good employee who moved up the ladder by being hard working and pleasant to the head coach – but his real talent to do head coaching things was unknown. Stefanski is the same ‘good guy’ who has a chance to be just as random as Nagy has been…but with the added pressure of working in the worst organization in the NFL the last decade, and not really having ‘control’ anyway…the owner and Paul DePodesta do. Stefanski is the dutiful employee, the ‘front’ for the real criminals (the ownership)…much like Jason Garrett, minus the clapping (I assume).

How do we even know what to expect from Stefanski for fantasy when we don’t know if OBJ or Landry will be there? What WRs would replace them? Will Kareem Hunt be there? Will Baker Mayfield be there for long? Alex Van Pelt is the new offensive coordinator…he has a respected enough/OK track record working with QBs but has never been an offensive coordinator before. Between Stefanski and Van Pelt they’ve offensive coordinated about 23 games total (all Stefanski but was it really?) and they’ve head coached at high school, college, or NFL = zero games.

New GM Andrew Berry ran the Eagles ops last year with an influence over the draft…Miles Sanders 2nd-round? J.J. Arcega-Whiteside? Jay Ajayi to the rescue? No cornerbacks brought in for a team dying at cornerback? I’m not impressed, but it doesn’t matter – he’s also a ‘front’ for DePodesta.

There’s a big difference between holding a job in football/being a great employee (like Stefanski) and being a great leader of men and women in all facets + being an ace scout + be a football teacher + earn the respect of football players who probably know more than they do about football things. You’d have to hope Stefanski is the head coaching needle in a haystack find – at the crappiest haystack in the league.

Will Stefanski/Van Pelt ‘fix’ Baker? I have no idea. Somehow Baker was a developing god as a rookie with Hue Jackson and Freddie Kitchens…then was a nightmare with Kitchens and Todd Monken. I’m sure Baker knows more about real QB play than Stefanski or Van Pelt combined…but they are now tasked to fix him? You just hope they put him in a system that doesn’t restrict him or make him want to leave Cleveland…but my bet is young coaches wanna be in charge and have employees dance for them, and if things don’t go well right away – then the internal problems/conflicts will leak, publicly. See: Nagy-Trubisky after two seasons and see Aaron Rodgers with Matt LaFleur in the 2020 season when things don’t go as well.

Will Stefanski’s regime make this all right/good for fantasy? No one can know because Stefanski has nothing of record to look at. But if you assume young, inexperienced coach + rowdy locker room + big mouth stars on the payroll + a management team/organization that has ruined everything for a decade and hired Stefanski for the sole purpose of management being secretly in charge – then we can only conclude nothing amazing will happen here, or if it does it will be a random blip…like most of the NFL has become. Most likely the team is gutted of the Dorsey influence and it’s a mess for 1-2+ years of transition and lack of talent or experience or cohesion on the roster.

My biggest stake hold in the Browns, for fantasy/dynasty, is Baker Mayfield, who I think is one of the great talents at QB (see his rookie year with those surroundings…it’s not ‘hope’, it’s been seen). Do I believe Stefanski & Friends help Baker go to new heights? I can’t believe that, I can’t bet on that at this stage with what I know so far. Stefanski/Van Pelt were raised in the older school offenses…not what Baker needs (see: 2019). There will either be terrible OBJ-Landry to work with again in 2020 or they’re gone and a bunch of new faces stumble in – either way it’s a problem for Baker in 2020. If I think Stefanski will fail due to the organization…I have to assume Baker will be dragged down as well; that he cannot overcome it.

(a) Baker greatness in the NFL…

(b) Stefanski coaching prowess…

(c) The Browns organization bringing destructive failure to everything

Which of these three options have we seen more record/history of? Why would I try to bet against the obvious? I tried to in 2019 and got my head lopped off with Baker in fantasy. Now, I’m going back for round two because Kevin Stefanski is going to save the day? Nope.

Sorry to my Browns fans. Hey. You might randomly have a good season ahead…it happens to most of the league that way. Sustained good/greatness arriving with Stefanski…not likely. 


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About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is a fantasy football player analyst for Fantasy Football Metrics and College Football Metrics. 

Email rc4metrics@gmail.com

Learn more about RC and the Fantasy Football Metrics system >>