The first thing Kevin Stefanski did after he talked with Jim Brown for the first time ever was call his dad.
Stefanski heard from Brown, the Browns' legendary running back who was a three-time MVP award winner as well as a civil rights icon, shortly after he had been named the Browns' new head coach in 2020. It was a surreal moment for Stefanski, who knew all about Brown because of the way his dad, Ed, idolized him when he was growing up.
"I very quickly called my dad, and he couldn't believe it," Stefanski said. "(Being a Jim Brown fan) was not uncommon for a lot of people growing up at that age. I don't care where you were growing up. You became a Jim Brown fan early on in your life. So for my dad, his two — he loved Wilt Chamberlain, and he loved Jim Brown."
That memory ran through Stefanski's mind Friday when he learned about the passing of Brown, who passed away at 87 and left behind an indelible mark on Cleveland, professional football and countless other people who admired his work in social justice as well as his acting career.
Stefanski began his news conference with reporters Wednesday by thinking about Brown again.
"I want to start with my very sincere condolences to Monique, to the entire Brown family, to all of the friends and family and fans of Jim Brown," he said. "As you all know, we lost somebody very important to our franchise, to our league, to our society. The impact that he had was immeasurable."
Stefanski had other brief interactions with Brown in the three years since their first chat, and while Stefanski said he didn't know Brown on a personal level, he certainly felt the shockwaves that ran through the franchise when it learned it had lost its biggest legend.
"There will be time, as you know, over the next few days, weeks, months, years to memorialize Jim, and we'll let you know what the plans are as we keep moving forward," Stefanski said. "But obviously, I just want Monique and her family to know that we're thinking about them. And that's something that I know our players and coaches and staff here are constantly thinking about."
Stefanski ensured players last year knew about the importance of Brown, too, when they visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame during the offseason. Stefanski put "Jim Brown: A Football Life" from NFL Films on the bus TVs while the team drove to Canton.
In the week of reflection after Brown's passing, Stefanski plans to make sure his legacy will continue to shine among the team.
"It's my job to continue to educate our guys on what he's meant to our franchise, to our league," he said. "You stand on the shoulders of giants, and that's Jim Brown."