EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings will have a new offensive play-caller in 2020, as it was announced Monday that Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski was hired as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Stefanski interviewed for the same job after being Minnesota's interim offensive coordinator for the final three games of the 2018 season. When he did not get the Cleveland gig, the interim tag with the Vikings was removed. He was then hired by Cleveland after his first full season of calling plays in the NFL.
The Vikings will now be looking for their fifth offensive coordinator in as many seasons. Here is a breakdown of that coaching position since Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer arrived in Minnesota:
2014: Norv Turner
2016: Turner (7 games)/Pat Shurmur (9 games)
2018: John DeFilippo (13 games)/Stefanski (3 games)
Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen had high praise for the 37-year-old Stefanski, who was the Vikings longest-tenured coach.
"Yeah, I'm obviously happy for him. I think it's a great role for him," Thielen said Sunday. "He's a great leader, he has a great demeanor, and I have so much respect for him and the way that he carries out his life, his business – and thankful for his support and everything he's done for me over the years. He's been here since [before] I've been here, and I've got a lot of respect for him and am happy for him.
"Really cool to see a guy that just grinded. Made it through several different coaching changes and stayed here for a long time – which in this business doesn't happen very often," Thielen later added. "It's just a testament to him and his character and, really, how appreciated he was in this organization. I'm happy for him to get that bump."
Stefanksi joined the organization in 2006 and spent the first three seasons as an assistant to former Head Coach Brad Childress. Stefanski held a variety of roles over the years, as he was the Vikings tight ends coach in 2014 and 2015, and he was the assistant quarterbacks coach from 2009 to 2013.
He coached the running backs in 2016 and was Minnesota's quarterbacks coach in 2017 and 2018. Stefanski was the Vikings interim offensive coordinator for the final three games of 2018 before being promoted to that role in January of 2019.
Minnesota's offense ranked eighth at 25.4 points per game in 2019, and was 16th with 353.5 yards per game.
The Vikings showed a penchant for running the ball under Stefanski in 2019. Minnesota ran the ball on 49.43 percent of its offensive plays in 2019, the second-highest run-percentage rate in the league.
Vikings players voiced their support and respect for Stefanski on Sunday as they cleaned out their lockers.
"Part of me wants him to stay here, but part of me is so happy for him and his family," said center Garrett Bradbury. "I couldn't have asked for a better offensive coordinator in my first year. He was awesome for a lot of reasons. He's been super-approachable as a coach.
"Coming in as a rookie, the O.C., you kind of think there's a distance, but he's just an awesome guy with football and without football. I'm happy for him," Bradbury added. "Cleveland is getting a hell of a coach, a hell of a person. My main feeling is being happy for him and thankful for what he did this year."
Added running back Alexander Mattison: "I wish nothing but the best for him. Just want to wish blessings for him and his family. It's part of the game, but obviously over the year I've come to grow a relationship with him.
"He has a resilient mindset. He knows football like the back of his hand," Mattison continued. "I know that he'll do a great job."
Said wide receiver Bisi Johnson: "He'll be a tough one to replace. He's a really good guy, and I wish him luck with everything he's doing."
Zimmer and the Vikings will now turn their attention toward hiring a new offensive coordinator. Minnesota's offensive staff in 2019 featured one coach who has previous experience as an offensive coordinator.
That would be Gary Kubiak, who just finished his first season as the Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor.
With the news of Stefanski's departure coming just a day after Minnesota's playoff loss in the Divisional round, Vikings players didn't have much time to react to the news.
"Just found out about it, so I don't know how that'll impact us," Thielen said. "We'll figure it out and make the most of it."
Added Mattison: "I'm not sure how things are after something like this happens … so I'm just looking forward to the opportunity of getting back in here and working with whoever is up next."