EAGAN, Minn. — Kevin Stefanski is staying in Minnesota.
The Vikings announced Wednesday that they have removed the interim tag from Stefanski’s title of Offensive Coordinator, which he held for the final three games of the 2018 season.
Stefanski will now be the clear-cut offensive coordinator as he enters his 14th consecutive season with the Vikings as the longest-tenured coach on staff.
“Kevin is a smart young coach with a bright future,” said Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. “I’m happy to have him take over the offensive coordinator job. His work ethic and teaching ability have been obvious to me behind the scenes since I came here five years ago. He’s well respected by coaches and players both and I know he’s up to the task.”
Stefanksi joined the organization in 2006 and spent the first three seasons as an assistant to former Head Coach Brad Childress.
The 36-year-old has held a variety of roles since then.
He was Minnesota’s quarterbacks coach in 2017 and through this season after coaching the running backs in 2016. Stefanski was the Vikings tight ends coach in 2014 and 2015, and he was the assistant quarterbacks coach from 2009 to 2013.
Vikings players voiced their support and respect for Stefanski after the season ended.
“I enjoyed working with Kevin. He's a great person, a great football mind,” said Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. “He's been here a long time.”
Added Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs: “I have faith and believe in him. I bought into him as he’s our guy.”
Stefanski took over the role as interim offensive coordinator in Week 15 after the Vikings relieved John DeFilippo of his duties following a 21-7 road loss in Seattle on Monday Night Football.
The Vikings showed more of a commitment to running the ball when Stefanski was calling plays, as Minnesota averaged 27.6 rushing attempts per game in the three contests with Stefanski as interim offensive coordinator. The Vikings averaged 21.1 rushing attempts per game in 13 games with DeFilippo as the offensive coordinator.
Minnesota averaged 127.7 rushing yards per game over the final three games of the season, highlighted by a season-high 220 rushing yards in Stefanski’s debut, a 41-17 home win over Miami.
Vikings running back Latavius Murray said after Minnesota’s season ended that he noticed Stefanski’s effort to help get the running game going.
“I did. Again, I’ll go back to, obviously the Miami game, everybody wants to talk about that, but I can go back to the Detroit game and us not running the ball in the first half but then really running it well the second half,” Murray said. “That’s the commitment we need. If I look at [the Week 17] game, that -yard drive – run, pass, run, pass – switching it up, that’s the commitment we need.
“I definitely saw that, and I think Coach Stefanski knows exactly what needs to be done offensively for us to be effective,” Murray added.
Multiple players also said they appreciated how Stefanski pared down the number of play calls and allowed the offense to be freer over the final three games of the 2018 season.
“I think he simplified things for us,” Murray said. “Maybe tried to shorten the playbook a little bit, just tried and maybe put less on our table so we could go out there and do the things we do well and play fast and just do those things really well. I would say that was the biggest difference.”
Added wide receiver Aldrick Robinson: “It was his way. You could tell the different way he wanted it to go. He was more relaxed, and he kept it simple and let us play fast. That’s what we wanted to do.”
Stefanski will now be the fourth different Vikings offensive coordinator to open the season in four years.
Norv Turner had the role entering 2016 but resigned that November as Pat Shurmur then took over for the rest of the year on an interim basis and in 2017 as offensive coordinator. After Shurmur was hired as head coach of the Giants, the Vikings brought in DeFilippo, who called plays at the start of the 2018 season before he was replaced by Stefanski.
“I think that anytime you have more time in the same system, more time to master what you’re good at and figure out your identity, it’s probably better,” Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen said of Stefanski following the 2018 season. “But at the same time, that’s not our job. Our job as players is to make sure we’re doing whatever is called, the play that is called, and we have to do our best for our ability to get open and to win.
“That’s all we can control, and then the coaching staff does their thing,” Thielen added.