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The View From Pluto: Browns Lead with Analytics, but Need Leadership Most

A photo of Kevin Stefanski.
The Browns hired Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski as their sixth head coach under owner Jimmy Haslam

The Cleveland Browns on Tuesday introduced their sixth head coach under owner Jimmy Haslam. Former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski takes over for Freddie Kitchens, who was fired after a disappointing 6-10 season.  WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto says Stefanski fits into the Browns' analytics approach to the game, but says what the team really needs is leadership. 

A shallow pool
The Browns interviewed more than a half dozen candidates for the head coach job. They settled on Stefanski, who has never held the position before. Pluto says the Browns’ reputation of cycling through coaches has a lot do with that.

“Your pool of candidates is not as deep or as wide as you want it to be because you’ve created a shallow pool by your actions,” Pluto said. “So now you’re into guys that haven’t had the job before or maybe have some flaws.”

Inexperience vs. flaws
Many fans wanted the Browns to hire New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. But Pluto said he has flaws.

In addition to being fired as head coach of the Denver Broncos in 2010, Pluto said McDaniels backed out shortly after being hired as the head coach of Indianapolis in 2018. “Three assistants signed contracts to go to the Colts based on the fact that Josh had agreed to go to the Colts. Three guys were left hanging.”

"This is his shot. He interviewed with them the previous year"

Pluto says the 37-year-old Stefanski is likely all-in. “This is his shot. He interviewed with them the previous year.”

Stefanski is also a “numbers guy”, which fits into the Browns’ analytics approach under chief strategist Paul DePodesta.

“But there’s another element and it goes back to discipline and leadership ability,” Pluto said. “Freddie Kitchens had multiple failures but his biggest was the players didn’t respect him. Almost every week we had some players screaming at Freddie on the sidelines and too many penalties.”

So, the big question, Pluto says, is whether Stefanski can lead.

“No matter how smart you are or how prepared you are, you’re not going to know what you’re facing until you’re there, especially when you’re in a room now with 53 millionaires who are young and came into a lot of money early. And many of them have had a lot of entitlement thrown at them, and they’re sitting there with their arms folded and saying, ‘You show me what you can do.’”

Pluto argues that inexperience doesn’t necessarily equal failure.

Kyle Shanahan has the San Francisco 49ers rolling. He was a first-time head coach and some people questioned whether he could do it or not. In other words, somebody’s gotta give you a chance to take a chance.”

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