The phrase “same old Browns” has developed into professional football folklore over the last few decades. At its core, it is a reference to the Browns being unable to successfully rebound from their expansion days; 1999-the early 2000’s.
Up until this season, for the last 21 years, the Cleveland Browns have been nothing short of laughingstock, with coaches lasting with barely enough time to build a program, and a quarterback list longer than a complex recipe. Despite this, Jimmy Haslam has never been afraid to take a chance that might be considered outside of the box, and with his recent set of hires, he might have hit a home run.
Kevin Stefanski has the exact demeanor one needs to be a successful NFL head coach. His even-keeled nature has not only been extremely refreshing to observe during press conferences, but has also been an absolute blessing during this particular season, as adversity has reared it’s ugly head at nearly every turn as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stefanski has taken each COVID related blow in stride and has been able to put his team in a position to win nearly every game this season.
In addition to his impressive demeanor, Stefanski has unlocked a better version of quarterback Baker Mayfield, an area that was deemed imperative in order for a Browns turnaround. Mayfield has kept the interceptions down, especially in the later portion of the year. Stefanski’s implementation of a heavy play-action passing attack has played to Mayfield’s strengths as a passer, especially on designed quarterback rollouts. Mayfield is on his fourth head coach in just his third year in the pros; some continuity will help him grow in Stefanski’s offense as time goes on.
In addition to Stefanski, Haslam’s hiring of Andrew Berry has proved to extremely worthwhile thus far. Berry’s selection of former Alabama right tackle Jedrick Wills in the first round of his first draft as Browns GM has helped stabilize a much maligned offensive line. Wills’ switch to left tackle has been nearly seamless, as veteran offensive line coach Bill Callahan has been extremely helpful in that transition.
Berry complemented this pick by signing former Tennessee Titans right tackle Jack Conklin to a deal in free agency. Berry’s addressing of the offensive line has not only helped the development of Baker Mayfield and the passing game, but the rushing attack has benefited as well. The Browns posses one of the most potent rushing attacks in all of the NFL, as their offensive line has controlled the line of scrimmage in a majority of their games this season.
The tandem of Stefanski and Berry has resulted in one of the most successful seasons since the Browns came back to Cleveland. While Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam have taken their share of criticism over the years, they have finally gotten it right with their Ivy League duo.
The Browns’ season might have ended in disappointing fashion against the Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, but fans of this organization and city should be exhilarated at the prospect of this team being relevant in the AFC for a very long time.