Vikings’ Stefanski: ‘I am exactly where I want to be’
EAGAN, Minn. — If there was disappointment for Kevin Stefanski in not getting Cleveland’s head coaching job, it evidently didn’t last long.
On Wednesday, the Browns chose Freddie Kitchens over Stefanski, the other finalist. But Stefanski then agreed to a deal to be the Vikings’ offensive coordinator after serving on an interim basis for the final three games of the 2018 season.
“It was a good experience to go through,” Stefanski said Friday, Jan. 11, about interviewing with the Browns. “I am exactly where I need to be. I am exactly where I want to be. I am happy to have gone through it, but this is a special opportunity here.”
Stefanski is Minnesota’s longest-tenured assistant, having been with the team since Brad Childress hired him in 2006. Stefanski said Childress was among those who have offered congratulations this week.
Stefanski, promoted from quarterbacks coach when John DeFilippo was fired Dec. 11, had a contract that expired Tuesday. He hasn’t wasted any time since reaching a deal to return.
“He has already given me a list of everything that we have to go over from now until training camp,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.
There is plenty to address for the Vikings, who disappointingly finished 8-7-1 and failed to make the playoffs. They were 20th in the NFL in total offense and 30th in rushing.
“The plan is pull this thing apart, see what we did well and then add some things,” Stefanski said. “We are not going to just change for the sake of change. We are going to change it for the better.”
Stefanski declined to give specifics on how much the offensive philosophy will change. And he declined to offer specifics about the offensive line, which had its share of struggles in 2018.
Stefanski is hopeful continuity will help in his dealings with quarterback Kirk Cousins, who had some ups and downs in his first season in Minnesota.
“Kirk and I spent a year together just now,” Stefanski said. “I got to know him a little bit more. He got to know me a little bit more. That is something we can build off of.”
Stefanski said he “texted a bunch” of players in recent days in a continuing effort to get to know them better. He said he has a “shared vision” with Zimmer.
Stefanski said he remained in “constant” communication with Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman while he was a candidate for the Browns job. Zimmer said he conducted “some other interviews” for the position but didn’t name any other candidates.
After the Vikings had problems on the ground for much of the season, Zimmer stressed to Stefanski the need for more balance. In Stefanski’s first game as coordinator, the Vikings rushed for a season-high 220 yards in a 41-17 victory over Miami. But in a 24-10 loss to Chicago in the finale, they had a season-low 164 total yards, including just 63 rushing.
“I’m glad I got the opportunity,” Stefanski said of his interim stint. “I wish I could have done better, I wish we could have done better. But certainly it was a good experience for having not called plays before.”
Longtime Vikings assistant dies
John Michels, the longest-tenured assistant in Vikings history, died Thursday in Kingsport, Tenn. He was 87.
Michels was an assistant from 1967-93, all but one season as offensive line coach.
“I knew that he had bad health,” said hall of fame tackle Ron Yary, who played for the Vikings from 1968-81. “It wouldn’t be any use to have called him because he wouldn’t have been cognizant of who I was.”
Michels was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and Yary said he brought discipline to the Vikings.
“He was a drill sergeant as a coach, but a very kind, generous, helpful, concerned man off the battlefield,” Yary said. “A coach is one thing but being a good person is much more important, and if there ever was a man who was dedicated to the health and welfare of his family and lived a life of honor and distinction, you can’t get anybody better than John.”
Childress explains departure
Childress provided an explanation Friday for his abrupt departure from the Atlanta Legends of the Alliance of America Football, a new league that begins play next month.
Childress, who coached the Vikings from 2006-10, resigned Wednesday and was replaced by defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with many great players and coaches throughout my years in football, including those at the Alliance,” Childress said in a statement. “Throughout it all, my biggest supporters have always been my family. I have an amazing wife, four kids, four grandchildren and am still lucky enough to have my parents around. For now, I need to refocus. I’m looking forward to spending time with them and supporting them as they’ve done so for me.”