Stump Mitchell was an NFL running back for 10 seasons and has coached the position at the highest level since the mid-1990s. He's seen enough to know he had something "special" in his room throughout an otherwise disappointing 2019 season.
Even with a change at head coach, Mitchell knew it'd be tough to walk away from another season with Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and the rest of Cleveland's running backs. That group -- which also includes D'Ernest Johnson and Dontrell Hilliard -- played a big role in Mitchell's decision to remain the Browns' run game coordinator/running backs coach under new head coach Kevin Stefanski.
Mitchell, who has been coaching since he retired as a player in 1991 and enters his 19th season as an NFL coach, is the only returning coach on the offensive side of the ball.
"The most important thing was the type of talent we have here, knowing what we're capable of doing even though we didn't get it done last year," Mitchell said. (Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer) kind of said it best. It's unfinished business. There's things we should have accomplished but we didn't totally get it done.
"Having the opportunity to come back with the running backs -- Nick, Kareem, Dontrell and D'Ernest -- there's definitely going to be a satisfying feeling. Now we've just got to learn a new system and go out and get it done."
Chubb certainly thrived in the Browns' system last season, rushing for 1,494 yards and finishing with 1,772 scrimmage yards in a banner second season. He finished second in the NFL and amassed the fourth-most rushing yards in franchise history -- most by anyone not named Jim Brown -- even while splitting snaps with Hunt, who was suspended for the first eight games, throughout the second half of the season.
Through two seasons, Chubb has rushed for 2,490 yards -- breaking off two of the three longest runs in Browns history along the way -- and averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
Hunt, meanwhile, provided a bigger presence in the passing game than he did as a rusher. The NFL's leading rusher in 2017 caught 37 passes for 285 yards to go along with 179 rushing yards over the final eight games of the year.
"I learned to appreciate everything about Nick," Mitchell said. "He just goes out and works and tries to get better and do the things he's not so good at, and tries to be great at the things he's pretty good at. That's a good feeling."
"Kareem only having him half a year, hopefully we'll have him the entire year but he's a special talent as well. It's a room of talent. We've just got to come in and do our part and hopefully we'll build off what we did last year."
With Stefanski as the offensive coordinator, Minnesota boasted one of the league's best rushing offenses in 2019. Dalvin Cook led a Vikings rushing attack that finished sixth in the NFL with 133.3 yards per game, and Minnesota was just one of three teams in the league to attempt more runs than passes.
Stefanski considered it a priority to retain a veteran leader like Mitchell to oversee a position group that will be so vital to what Cleveland wants to achieve in 2020.
"There's plenty of people I called to talk about Stump. They all said the same thing. Just a good person, very knowledgeable, high-character guy," Stefanski said. "He brings a level of toughness to the position. I think very highly of him. I think he's a really good teacher. I'm really enjoying getting to know him. I think he brings a different perspective to our staff, which I'm really looking forward to.
"I think continuity is important. Unfortunately sometimes in the NFL you don't get 10 years together. The continuity allows them to get back in the room and talk ball. There's already a mutual respect built in, so it will allow them to operate at a high level while we start installing the scheme."
Though it's still early in the process as Browns coaches continually meet to shape the identity of the offense, Mitchell views the opportunity to coach Chubb, Hunt and the rest of the group together for a second season as "tremendous."
"The greatest effect it could have on those guys, and they already do it, is to push them," Mitchell said. "They don't mind working hard, so that's not a big deal. To hear the same voice, there's something to it. Those guys know what I'm about and I know what they're about. They're about achieving the most they possibly can and that's all you're looking to help them do."
Stump Mitchell's NFL Playing Background:
1981-89: St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals, running back
1991: Kansas City Chiefs, running back
Stump Mitchell's Coaching Background:
1991: San Antonio Rough Riders (WLAF), running backs coach
1993-94: Casa Grande High School (Ariz.), head coach
1995: Morgan State University, offensive coordinator
1996-98: Morgan State University, head coach
1999-2007: Seattle Seahawks, running backs coach
2008-09: Washington Redskins, assistant head coach/running backs
2010-12: Southern University, head coach
2013-16: Arizona Cardinals, running backs coach
2017-18: New York Jets, running backs coach
2019-: Cleveland Browns, run game coordinator/running backs coach