EAGAN, Minn. -- The Vikings are looking for their fifth offensive coordinator since 2016.
The Cleveland Browns agreed Sunday, Jan. 12, to hire Minnesota offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski as head coach.
Former Vikings coach Brad Childress, who gave Stefanski his first NFL job as assistant to the head coach in 2006, said Stefanski gave him the news Sunday morning.
“I was coming of church and my phone rang and it was him, and I said, ‘It was ordained from above that you should be calling me now,’ ’’ Childress said. “He said, ‘Thanks for the start,’ and I said, ‘Hey, you’ve done more than spades to earn everything you’ve gotten. Now, be careful what you wish for.’ ’’
Stefanski, 37, interviewed for the job last Thursday and became available to move on after Minnesota lost 27-10 at San Francisco on Saturday in a divisional playoff game.
Stefanski took over as interim offensive coordinator from the fired John DeFilippo for the final three games of 2018 and last January had the interim tag removed.
Prior to DeFilippo’s 13-game stint in 2018, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer had in the position Norv Turner from 2014 until midway through the 2016 season and then Pat Shurmur for 1 1/2 seasons.
“Part of me wants him to stay here but part of me is just happy, so happy for him and his family,’’ rookie center Garrett Bradbury said of Stefanski’s hiring. “I couldn’t have asked for a better offensive coordinator this first year. … He’s been super approachable as a coach.’’
Stefanski was a Vikings assistant for 14 seasons in a variety of roles. He had interviewed for Cleveland’s head position last January and was runner-up to Freddie Kitchens. The Browns fired Kitchens after going 6-10 in 2019.
Sources said the Vikings will consider turning to assistant head coach/offensive adviser Gary Kubiak or his son, quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak, to replace Stefanski. The hiring of either could provide a smooth transition and allow the Vikings to continue to run the same offense.
Shurmur is available after being fired recently after two seasons as head coach of the New York Giants. However, sources said Sunday that Shurmur had been looking at four or five other offensive coordinator jobs and it was uncertain whether the Vikings would have interest.
“You wish him nothing but the best,’’ rookie running back Alexander Mattison said of Stefanski. “He has a resilient mind-set and I definitely would say that he knows football like the back of his hand. I know that he’ll do a great job.’’
Under Stefanski, the Vikings were the most balanced team in the NFL in 2019, having a near 50-50 split of calling running and passing plays. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was fourth in the NFL with a passer rating of 107.4 and Dalvin Cook gained 1,135 yards to become the team’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Adrian Peterson in 2015.
Minnesota was ranked in the top 10 in total offense for much of the season before finishing No. 16. Cook’s December injuries and the Vikings resting most starters in the regular-season finale against Chicago played a role in the slippage.
The Vikings had a healthy Cook on Saturday, but struggled on offense. They had just 147 yards of total offense, including just 21 on the ground. Cook had 18 yards on nine carries.
To open the playoffs, the Vikings had rolled up 362 yards of total offense in a 26-20 overtime win at New Orleans on Jan. 5.
“It was a little bittersweet coming off the loss but (Stefanski is) excited to get to work,’’ Childress said. “I think most people thought it would be just a matter of time before he became a head coach. He’s a great communicator and a very, very good coach. He’s coached all positions on the offense but the offensive line, and that will help him.’’
Childress said Stefanski grew a lot as a coach in the past year. The Vikings brought in Gary Kubiak, who won a Super Bowl four years ago as Denver’s head coach, last January to serve as a mentor to Stefanski and help put in a new offensive scheme to make Cousins more comfortable and improve the running game.
“I appreciate him greatly,’’ wide receiver Adam Thielen said of Gary Kubiak. “He impacted me greatly and made me a better person and a player, and I’m very thankful.’’
It remains to be seen if Gary Kubiak, 58, who resigned as the Broncos’ head coach after the 2016 season because of health reasons and then worked two years in their front office, would want the coordinator job. His son, 32, is regarded as a bright, up-and-coming coach.
“That’d be awesome,’’ Vikings rookie receiver Bisi Johnson said of Klint Kubiak possibly being a candidate. “I really like him as a coach. … Just to see him get that opportunity, that would be great for him and really elevate his career.’’
Johnson does not believe it will be a difficult transition for the Vikings to have another coordinator.
“Adversity strikes all the time and honestly, just this coaching change, I don’t think it will be too big or too hard on our guys,’’ Johnson said.’’
As for Stefanski, if he is around for a second Browns season, he would return to U.S. Bank Stadium in 2021 for a game against the Vikings.