Kevin Stefanski had minimal time to catch his breath or even eat during his first 48 hours on the job as the Browns' new head coach. Among the many to-dos, one item couldn't go undone, and Stefanski made sure to knock it out Monday.
Stefanski reached out to a number of his new players, and that included his quarterback, Baker Mayfield. The soon-to-be third-year signal-caller is in Austin, Texas, for the first part of the offseason, and the conversation was brief, but it was an important moment for Stefanski.
It's the start of what the Browns and Stefanski believe will be a mutually beneficial relationship between the coach and a quarterback with "sky's the limit" potential.
"He is the quarterback. He is the triggerman and that is the exciting part for me," Stefanski said. "I worked with a lot of quarterbacks, a lot of great ones over the years, and I am looking forward to hunkering down with him and getting to work.
"Like any one of our players, when they walk in the building, we will have a detailed plan for them about how they are going to improve. Baker, as a young player, the sky is the limit, but we are going to put in the work to get it done with Baker."
Less than an hour after his second season came to an end, Mayfield vowed to be better than he was in an up-and-down 2019. Coming off a record-setting rookie season, Mayfield completed 59 percent of his passes for 3,827 yards, 22 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. The last stat bothered Mayfield the most because it wasn't reflective of the kind of quarterback he's been in the past.
Mayfield was his own worst critic throughout the team's disappointing 2019 campaign, calling the turnovers "frankly embarrassing for me."
"That's something I take pride in, so I'm not happy with that," Mayfield said. "There's a lot of things I can look back at the film on and point out exactly where it went wrong, but that's the good thing about it. It can all be fixed."
Check out photos of new head coach Kevin Stefanski's first press conference
Stefanski agrees, and there's enough of a track record to believe he's the right guy to help with the fixing.
In his 14 years with the Vikings, Stefanski worked alongside a number of quarterbacks, ranging from a Hall of Famer like Brett Favre to a journeyman like Case Keenum. The latter might have provided one of the most notable bullet points on Stefanski's resume.
Stefanski was in his first year as quarterbacks coach in 2017 when Keenum, starting in place of an injured Sam Bradford, put together the best season of his NFL career. He completed a career-best 67 percent of his passes for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His next year in Denver, Keenum had an 18-15 touchdown/interception ratio.
This past year, Stefanski's first full season as offensive coordinator, veteran Kirk Cousins posted some of the best stats of his career, including a quarterback rating (104.7) that put him in the top five in the NFL.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said Keenum and Cousins were among the 25-30 references Cleveland's search committee contacted throughout a search that included interviews with eight head coach candidates. Keenum's and Cousins' opinion of Stefanski matched the others, making the Browns confident Stefanski could help get Mayfield back on track in 2020 and beyond.
"The Browns got a great head coach in Kevin," Cousins said. "He is a smart football mind, a strong communicator, and he will lead their organization well. I'm very happy for Kevin."
For Stefanski, it helps having a quarterback in Mayfield who has already proven he can play at a high level in the NFL. Mayfield's accuracy, Stefanski said, is "legit," and the coach believes it can shine even brighter if he's able to "make life easier on him" within the confines of the Browns offense.
Monday was merely the start of the all-important relationship between Stefanski and Mayfield.
"I'm looking forward to the jump that this kid will take," Stefanski said. "He is such a young player and the guys I have been around, when they put their mind to it and they start to grind on this thing and understand the whys and the concepts that we are teaching, I really think this kid has a chance to take off."