EAGAN, Minn. – You can bet on a few bro hugs being exchanged before — and possibly after —Sunday's game.
The Vikings are hosting the Browns at U.S. Bank Stadium for the teams' Week 4 matchup, which means Cleveland Head Coach Kevin Stefanski is returning "home," per se.
Stefanski spent 2006-19 with Minnesota in various capacities, including as the team's offensive coordinator in his final season. Cleveland hired Stefanski as its head coach in 2020, and the Browns are 13-6 in the regular season under him.
Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson told reporters Wednesday that he's looking forward to seeing Stefanski this weekend. But when kickoff rolls around, it'll be all business on both sides.
"First of all, I think Kevin is a great human being. And he's an outstanding football coach. So I'm not surprised that he's had success in Cleveland," Patterson said. "I get it. He was here a long time, and people want to make it about Kevin."
(Guilty as charged)
"But it's not about Kevin. It's about his players. … Every week in this league, you run across someone that you've had close contact with and that you've coached with before, right?" Patterson continued. "I coached with [Seahawks Head Coach] Pete Carroll. So we had a great conversation before the game – a lot of hugging, laughing, giving me a bad time about being a grandpa – and then talked to him after the game. But during the game, I'm trying to beat him. We're trying to win."
View photos of Vikings players from practice on Sept. 29 at the TCO Performance Center.
Things will be no different, Patterson noted, when the Vikings and Browns face off.
"I have a great deal of respect for Kevin. I love him," he said. "But I want to beat him on Sunday. … It's not about him. It's about his players. And for us to win the game, that's what we have to understand."
And it certainly doesn't hurt to have a familiarity with Stefanski's offense and coaching style, either, which Patterson and the Vikings of course do.
Stefanski's offenses are known for implementing lots of pre-snap motions – or "eye candy," as Patterson calls it – in aim of throwing the defense off-kilter. The Vikings defense faced it daily when Stefanski was the offensive coordinator in Minnesota, and the unit will need to be prepped to see those movements again.
"We practiced against this every day. But now what we've got to do is defeat the guys he has there," Patterson said. "We have to play against their five offensive linemen. Their two good tight ends. Odell] Beckham, [Jr.], the receiver. They’ve got two **[great running backs** [in Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb]."
The Vikings also will be readying for Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
"We can't lose focus on that. Because those are the guys we've got to defeat and defend to give us a chance to win the game," Patterson said, "[but] it's not like our guys haven't had that experience of seeing motions and shifts over and over again."
That familiarity works both ways, so Patterson and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer understands that Stefanski also is well-versed in how Minnesota operates.
"When both sides know each other really well, it evens out," Patterson said.
Zimmer reflected that Stefanski "did really good" during his time with the Vikings and has done so in Cleveland, building an offense that ranked third in the NFL in rushing yards (2,374) last season.
Against the Bears last weekend, the Browns racked up 215 yards on the ground.
"They have a good scheme. They run a combination of different plays … they have weakside runs, strongside runs, they motion and shift like every single play, so they try to get you in some bad misfits," Zimmer explained.
"I think Kevin's got a great rapport with the players," he also noted. "He's very analytical, knows what he wants to get accomplished, very detailed in what he wants to do."
Among those players Stefanski built relationships with are a number of Minnesota's offensive veterans, including Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook and C.J. Ham, who all spoke with media members.
Cousins recalled first meeting Stefanski at the 2012 Senior Bowl, emphasizing that even then he knew the assistant coach was "going places" in the football world. When the Vikings signed Cousins as a free agent in 2018, he was thrilled to work with Stefanski as the Vikings quarterbacks coach.
"That was a huge plus of coming to Minnesota, and then it was just a natural fit to have him as the OC and the play-caller in '19," Cousins said. "One of the many people I could point to in my football career that I've been very fortunate to get to work alongside, and I'm grateful that our paths crossed."
For Ham, he wonders if he'd even be where he is now if it wasn't for Stefanski.
Ham joined the Vikings on a tryout basis in 2016, during which Stefanski worked as the team's running backs coach. He spent that season on Minnesota's practice squad and impressed from there before making the switch to fullback and earning a spot on the active roster in 2017.
"It's great to have Coach Stefanski come back," Ham said. "I'd like to say Stefanski was a big reason why I even made it on this team, got an opportunity. I respect him and owe him a lot for that."
Sunday's pregame reunion is sure to be a positive one for all involved. But as Patterson said, the Vikings top priority is notching a second consecutive win – which means the warm fuzzies go out the window, Stefanski or not.
"Kevin is not blocking anybody," Patterson said. "He's not throwing a pass, he's not catching a pass, he's not tackling anybody. So what it comes down to is how well their players play and how well our players play."