Kevin Stefanski didn't look any different from his normal self as he sat in front of a video screen Wednesday and addressed reporters.
Behind him was a black and white photo of legendary Browns running back Jim Brown, the same photo he's had in the background of nearly every Zoom call for the last several weeks. He wore an orange "Dawg Pound" hat, a cap he's worn many times since he was hired by the Browns nearly a year ago. His Nike sweatshirt was black. His beard was gray.
Even during the most difficult 24-hour stretch of his Browns coaching career, Stefanski looked and spoke the same as he has all season. News of his positive COVID-19 test, which ruled him out to coach Sunday's playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, sent shockwaves throughout the league, but Stefanski, who said he was feeling "fine," was still his same, unflappable self.
"We are working through the protocols and are just going to make sure that we stay in communication with the league, continue to keep everybody safe and also find a way to go get a win this weekend," he said. "I will be fine, but really, my concern is for our players, for our coaches and for the team going forward.
"They understand that we have a job to do, and they are excited to do that."
Stefanski will not be with the Browns or at Heinz Field for their first playoff game since 2002. League rules also prohibit him from communicating with the team at any point during the game, but he ensured his team will be just as prepared as they have in any game this season.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will serve as interim head coach. He previously coached in that role for one game in 2016 as special teams coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings when their coach, Mike Zimmer, underwent emergency eye surgery. Priefer had less than 24 hours to prepare for his new duties, and he still performed well as the Vikings lost, 17-15, in a tightly-contested game against the 11-1 Dallas Cowboys.
As Browns special teams coordinator, Priefer has interacted with players from nearly all positions on the team. He's one of the coaches who has been with the Browns beyond this season, too, and Stefanski knows he can rally players just as effectively as anyone.
"(I have) a ton of confidence in Coach Priefer," he said. "He knows this team very, very well from a roster standpoint but also based on how we play. I think it is a very natural place to go in an interim setting where he can not miss a beat, and then you let the offensive and defensive coaches focus on their side of the ball."
Offensive play-calling duties will be handed to offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt. Stefanski considered giving Van Pelt play-calling duties for the season before taking the role himself, but both coaches have been on the same page with game plan construction all season. Van Pelt's ascension to play-calling duties won't bring much change to the offense.
"AVP has been a huge part of our offense's success," he said. "He is a huge part of play calling. There is a ton of dialogue occurring between me, AVP and the rest of the offensive staff. He knows the things that we believe in. He knows how we play. He spends every waking moment with the quarterback, which is important when you are talking about trying to get him in a rhythm and comfort level. I have a ton of confidence in AVP's ability to get the job done."
Stefanski still isn't missing much of his normal game prep, either. He'll still participate in virtual meetings with players and coaches leading up to Sunday and will be just as involved in overall prep work as he would any other week.
The only significant difference is he won't be there Sunday. The Browns will miss having their even-keeled, always-positive coach on the sidelines, but Stefanski believes his team will do just fine.
He's just one person among many who have contributed to the success of the 2020 Cleveland Browns. He's never lowered his team expectations due to the absences of anyone, and that's certainly not changing now that he'll be the one who won't be present on gameday.
"This team is not my image," he said. "It's the Cleveland Browns. We've established an identity. We did it back in the spring. We told the guys how we were going to play, and we made sure we brought players in here that fit that mold. I think we understand perfectly how we play and how we win."
The personnel will be different and a few coaches will carry some new roles, but the overall look of how the Browns expect to play Sunday isn't changing.
Neither is Stefanski.
"This thing is not stopping for me or anybody else," he said, "so they are full speed ahead."
Check out the best photos from the Browns win over the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday by the Browns photo team