EAGAN, Minn. — One could call it a hurry-up offense to say the least.
The Vikings promotion of Kevin Stefanski to interim offensive coordinator after relieving first-year Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo on Tuesday escalated an already short week of preparing for the Dolphins.
Minnesota (6-6-1) returned from a 21-7 loss at Seattle in the wee hours on Tuesday. By 11 a.m., the team had announced the move made by Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
Stefanski participated in his first media availability on Thursday.
Questions ranged from his previous influences — either from his father Ed, an NBA executive, to working for the Vikings in a variety of roles since 2006 — to how tough the week has been, to his ideas on how an offense that sizzled at times early has flickered since a Week 10 bye.
Stefanski said Ed has “obviously been very instrumental in my upbringing.”
“Having him in this profession, albeit basketball, is helpful because the pressures of winning and losing,” Stefanski said. “The beauty of our sport … is that you get charged every week with a win or a loss, and he’s somebody that will commiserate with a loss and understand how it goes with a win.”
Stefanski played basketball and football in his early years and quickly discovered his love for the latter was accompanied by a talent that enabled him to play defensive back at the University of Pennsylvania, twice earning All-Ivy League Honorable Mention.
After a year in football operations at his alma mater, Stefanski began his career with the Vikings in 2006 as an assistant to former Head Coach Brad Childress.
Stefanski was assistant quarterbacks coach from 2009-13, maintaining his role when the Vikings transitioned from Childress to Leslie Frazier. In 2014, when Zimmer was hired, Stefanski shifted to coach tight ends for two seasons and moved to running backs in 2016 and quarterbacks in 2017.
“Kevin’s a guy … who has been around a lot of offenses,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “He’s a guy who knows what works and what doesn’t work, and I think it’s been good over these last two days, trying to get back to things that we did early in the year that made us successful.”
Stefanski said he appreciates the way that offensive coaches have taken on an enhanced workload in a short window before an important game.
“It’s not about one person. My role may have changed a little bit, but luckily, and you mentioned Drew [Petzing], but I have Todd Downing, Clancy Barone, Kennedy Polamalu, Andrew Janocko, Darrell Hazell. All these guys,” Stefanski said. “Maybe someone is taking on a little bit more busy work. We are lucky to be around and have a staff here and do that and not miss a beat.”
Stefanski, whom Zimmer interviewed for the post this offseason before opting to hire DeFilippo, said he’s envisioned how he’d handle this role.
“As an assistant coach, I think every assistant coach and probably every fan is calling the plays with the play caller,” Stefanski said. “Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. 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 one as a coach. I think that is incumbent upon you to take yourself through what you may do here. The play-calling thing, I am going again to rely on, we have a great staff and we have good players, and to steal a line from Pat Shurmur, ‘It’s about the players, not the plays.’ ”
Shurmur, who was promoted on an interim basis during the 2016 season, was offensive coordinator in 2017 before being hired as head coach of the Giants.
Stefanski’s philosophy likely will be a blend of multiple past influences and continuously developed, even if this regular season has just three games remaining. Minnesota is currently in line for a playoff berth and can control its destiny.
“I hope my experience with all the guys I’ve worked with over the years has shaped me into the coach I am,” he said. “You can go all the way back to Coach Childress and [former Offensive Coordinator] Darrell Bevell. I hope I’m learning something every day, quite honestly.
“The staff we have now, I have truly learned something from those guys every day,” Stefanski continued. “I have a ton of great influencers that have shaped me into who I am today, and I hope to be the coach that they’ve — I’ve learned from them, and Pat is certainly one of those guys I learned from.”
When asked about the identity he would like for the Vikings offense, Stefanski said he wants to be a physical group, a smart group and “versatile enough to make it hard on the defense.”
Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have dazzled this season, but teams have recently succeeded by blanketing Minnesota’s top two receivers.
Diggs said Stefanski’s experience is helpful.
“He’s been around since I’ve been here,” Diggs said. “He knows the things that work, and he knows what he likes and knows what he wants to get to. I look forward to the game and seeing how it’s going to play out.”
Stefanski said it was tough to see DeFilippo let go on “a personal level and on a professional level.”
“I feel for him, and he’s obviously a very good coach and a good person,” Stefanski said. “It’s not ideal how it all went down, but again, we’re moving on and don’t have time to look behind this. So, we’re moving on and have a big one on Sunday.
“I’ve been really impressed with our players,” he said. “I’ve been really impressed with our assistant coaches. We are charging forward and putting a game plan together.”