"Not an easy decision," he said. "I have a ton of respect for Joe the person, Joe the coach. He's a great man. He works extremely hard. He treats people the right way. I just felt like it was in the best interest of our football team to go in that direction."
Stefanski and Executive Vice President and General Manager Andrew Berry met with local reporters Monday to discuss how the Browns will move forward from a disappointing 2022 season. At 7-10, Cleveland finished last place in the AFC North, but Berry and Stefanski will move into their fourth season together confident that they can build on the current pieces of talent on the roster this offseason to find improvement in 2023.
That process starts with finding a new defensive coordinator.
Stefanski already has a pool of candidates he'd like to meet with in coming days and is eager to explore their ideas for improving the defense.
"I don't know that there's one specific set of criteria," he said about the candidates. "We're excited about the people we'll get to talk to. Everybody's resume is going to be a little bit different, so I'm very open-minded in that regard. This is a process you have to stay true to, and I want to make sure we meet with all the candidates and understand what they're about. I don't want to get ahead of ourselves. I want to make sure we remain true to it and get to know these candidates and see how that vision fits in with what we're trying to accomplish."
Stefanski said others will speak with the coaching candidates during the interview process as well.
"I think with this type of decision you want to get everybody's input," he said. "Obviously, I will spend a lot of time with candidates and cover everything A to Z, but I think it's important to get input from everybody."
The Browns averaged 331.5 yards allowed per game this season, which ranked 14th in the league. They were fifth in the league in passing defense (196.2 yards allowed per game) and 25th against the run (135.2 yards allowed per game).
Stefanski said the defense contained several areas that could've been better last season.
"You really have to pull it apart," he said. "It's never one thing. It really isn't. There's things I wish I could've done better in that regard. We'll look at everything. We'll look at scheme, obviously, but it's never one thing. It really isn't.
We're going to look very hard at all of these candidates, and schematically, when they look at our roster and our tape and we start talking ball and what we could do differently, those are all conversations to make sure that the personnel matches up with the vision of what we want to do."
Berry added that the falls of the Browns this season weren't all about the defense.
"It's never just about one thing," he said. "I want to be clear, this shouldn't just be a coordinator issue. The defense's low performance is not just about Joe. Part of it is when you look back to being at this point, decisions that you look back at the offseason you would have done a little bit differently. Also, I think there is accountability with our guys as well, right? We want our guys to seize the moment. We all share accountability with it, as Kevin mentioned earlier."
Stefanski did express confidence in the talent the Browns already have on defense.
The next piece of the puzzle — and one of the first big additions of the offseason — will be about who will lead them.
"I believe in our core of players, specifically on that side of the ball," he said. "We have guys that can affect the game, affect the passer. We're excited about finding the right person."
Check out photos of the Browns players, coaches and front office staff talking with the media and cleaning out their lockers at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 9, 2023
Chubb 'bittersweet' of crossing seasonal milestone
Nick Chubb solidified the best season yet of his five-year career in Week 18 by crossing the 1,500-yard plateau for the season.
With 77 yards against the Steelers, Chubb finished the season with 1,525 rushing yards and 302 carries, which were both career highs. He was just the second player in franchise history to surpass 1,500 rushing yards in a season, joining Jim Brown, who achieved the feat three times in his career.
"It's bittersweet," he said. "Individually, it's something that I am proud of for sure. Had a lot of help with the O-Line and guys blocking for me. At the end of the day, I'm about winning. It didn't happen yesterday and didn't happen a lot this season. It's stuff to be proud of for sure from this season. There are things we need to work on, but overall, it's bittersweet right now."
Tweaks on offense?
Stefanski didn't rule out possible changes to the offense now that the Browns will be entering their first full season with QB Deshaun Watson entrenched as a starter.
"I hope year to year you are different – different being better," he said. "How drastic that is depends so much year to year. Ultimately, we do want to maximize Deshaun's talents, maximize (RB) Nick Chubb, (TE) David Njoku and (WR) Amari (Cooper). We want to make sure that we are putting all of those guys in a good spot. Yes, there are things that yes we want to get to this spring and summer that we haven't gotten into just yet."