Mike Priefer understands why his family rooted against him.
Growing up in Middleburg Heights and Brunswick, he was surrounded by passionate Browns fans. That continued even when he was based near the Mediterranean Sea as a naval officer. He still ran into people donning Browns and Indians caps. So when he became a special teams coach in the NFL, he didn't fault his family for staying true to their Browns.
“Hey, Uncle Mike, good luck, I hope the Browns win,” they would say when Priefer’s teams visited Cleveland.
As of last month, Uncle Mike’s good luck is directly tied to the Browns’ success. Priefer held his introductory press conference Thursday as the Browns’ new special teams coordinator under Freddie Kitchens’ regime.
By choosing the Browns, Priefer ended an eight-year tenure in Minnesota despite the Vikings proposing a contract extension. It was time to come home.
“Great time to be Brown with the team that we have,” Priefer said. “I am really excited to be here and I am proud and happy to be a part of it.”
Priefer’s part will be to improve a special teams unit that ranked bottom-10 in both punt- and kick-return yards allowed, had three kicking plays blocked (two punts, one field goal), and employed two kickers who combined to finish bottom-five in field-goal and extra-point percentage. Jabrill Peppers showed flashes in the punt return game but he still finished 10th out of 17 qualified players in yards per return (the Browns did not return enough kickoffs to be considered in Pro Football Reference’s kickoff yardage stats).
The specifics of how Priefer can reverse those trends will have to wait until he interacts with the players. What he can offer now is a significant increase in discipline.
“We are going to play disciplined,” Priefer said. “I do not want to go into a situation where I think, 'Hey, (the special teams) are going to go out and win every game for the Cleveland Browns.' That is not our role on special teams. Our role is to go out there and be a weapon in all six phases, including field goal and field goal block.”
Priefer’s allusions to discipline aren't just lip-service callbacks to his military background. The Vikings were the least penalized team in the NFL on special teams plays in 2018 and 2017. So Priefer’s disciplinary ways carry substance.
Also substantive is his knack for coaching kickers. Priefer said during a 2018 midseason press conference that he thinks he understands field-goal kicking better than most special teams coaches, and he presided over Blair Walsh’s All-Pro season during Walsh’s rookie year.
As for Greg Joseph, Prefer said he liked him during the draft process, thinks his technique needs work, but likes his leg strength and thinks he can be a good kicker.
As for Priefer’s job, he has high aspirations. He knows from living among passionate Browns fans as a child that he can’t let them down.
“I want to be the best special teams coordinator that (the Browns) have ever had,” Priefer said. “I want to lead these young men in the area of special teams to help us win a championship.”