Kevin Stefanski's Exit Interview 1/10/22

Opening statement:

“Here we are the day after the season ended. Obviously, not a fun day when you are not playing on into the tournament. I think that is really the thing that sticks with you is you are one of those 18 teams that did not make it in. There are 14 teams in there and there is going to be one standing at the end. It is frustrating obviously. It is disappointing. Any time you do not achieve your goals. It is really disappointing. The finality of it all and just being with the players one last time today and just telling them I appreciate them. I appreciate their effort. I think you see, especially yesterday, those guys played really, really hard. I think that was great for them as teammates to get that win and fight for each other. Ultimately, like I said earlier, did not achieve our goals, and that is frustrating as I sit here obviously. What we will do is we will get some rest, step back, reflect on everything and look at what we can do better for 2022, and that will be our goal.”

On if he sensed the cohesion for the 2021 Browns team was not as strong as desired, given comments from some players:

“I do think you have to be intentional, like you mentioned, in these times that you are making sure that the guys are around each other and building those relationships. It is harder than ever with having two locker rooms, everybody wearing masks and those type of things. I see guys who played hard for each other, and I see guys that pushed each other and supported each other. We will always be intentional about finding ways to come together.”

On takeaways from not meeting expectations this year and how that can help the team moving forward:

“For us, you have to apply some of these tough lessons you learn. It is a tough lesson. We talked about as a team today, our record is 8-9, you own it, you wear it and it is ultimately short of your goals, but moving forward is about finding ways to improve and learning from some of those lessons this year to make sure we are better situated moving forward.”

On if he expects the Browns coaching staff to return:

“Yes, I do not anticipate any major changes.”

On if there are any major surgeries scheduled, in addition to QB Baker Mayfield:

“I do not have that in front of me. Nothing jumps out at me. I do not have that right in front of me, though.”

On S John Johnson III saying there could be some things that the team could do to better help the players out from a physical standpoint, including potentially having a yoga instructor in the building, understanding the numbers may have been limited this year due to COVID-19 protocols:

“You are a little limited there in terms of who you can bring in with protocols. We are always going to be searching for new and better ways to do things. I mentioned to you guys before, want to look at some of the soft-tissue injuries that we had and prevent those ones that are preventable, if you can. Certainly, we will look at all of those things. I am always looking for our players to chime in on suggestions and definitely want to look into all of that stuff.”

On what was the most frustrating part of the 2021 season:

“You sit back here and you look at and watch all of those games again, just missed opportunities. I think that is kind of how it felt throughout the season. We were not consistent enough to win consistently and to play 60 minutes of good, complementary football. It is a bunch of different things, but ultimately, we just did not take advantage of some of our opportunities.”

On if in retrospect the Browns would have handled Mayfield’s injury differently:

“Like I mentioned earlier, any time you fall short, you second-guess everything. You really do. Having said that, I just felt every single week I tried to make the best decision for the team with the information available. That is really all I can do week in and week out. In general, obviously, there are a ton of things we have to look at and learn from.”

On if there is any notion that aspects of the Browns offense became stale with the team returning all of the coaches and starting players on the unit from 2020:

“I do not think so. I think this staff pushes each other. Certainly, you mentioned the players, I think if you can have continuity, it is oftentimes a bonus in this league, which we know it is hard to have continuity oftentimes. It is really important to push each other as a staff, and it is important to get out of our comfort zones. That is one of the things that we do in these offseasons is look at other schemes, learn from other coaches, meet with other coaches and study other schemes to see if there is anything that we can do to give our players a better opportunity on gameday.”

On if one of the most important messages for the Browns this offseason is that talent on paper does not matter much in the NFL and does not immediately lead to winning and championships on its own:

“I think that is true what you are saying for sure. It is not something, like you mentioned, where on paper it does not really matter much to us. I do not think that I ever got the sense that the players or anybody in the building focused on that type of thing. Ultimately, yeah, it is frustrating and disappointing because we are not playing, bottom line. We are not playing in that tournament right now, and that is hard to stomach because the coaches and the players, these guys put a lot into this, and it is hard when there is finality to it and you are not part of that postseason tournament.”

On how the Browns will evaluate the passing game to make improvements this offseason:

“To your point, this offseason and spending a lot of time in that area and trying to find ways to improve is going to be a huge part of our offseason. With anything as you can imagine, it is multifaceted. We have to dig around and find those areas where we can improve and what do we do well because there are elements of the pass game and elements of the run game that we do well, and then there are some that we just were not good enough. Now the question becomes, how do we improve them? I think that is what this offseason and scheme evaluation, and like I mentioned studying some other teams and you watch college tape, you try to find some additional schemes to add to the nuance of what you are doing.”

On if he observed that each side of the offense and defense solely worried about their unit, given comments from some players earlier today:

“I did not observe it. Again, I observed the guys at practice. Talked to the guys. Watched them play. I think a little bit of it is it is frustrating. You go 8-9 and you do not make the playoffs, and guys are frustrated with that. In terms of day to day and watching how this team played, I did not get that sense.”

On if he will once again charge Browns assistant coaches to explore other avenues to make improvements this offseason:

“Yes, for sure. It is what we will do with the players, and it is important that we do it with our coaching staff, as well. None of us are finished products. If we can improve any small piece our repertoire and any small piece of how we teach, what we teach and those type of things, I think it will beneficial for our team.”

On if the Browns offense did an adequate job of compensating for Mayfield’s injuries, including as it relates to the number of rushing attempts in games that Mayfield did and did not play:

“Looking back at all of it will be important. Like you mentioned, making sure that we are finding ways to be explosive in the run and explosive in the pass, that is always going to be our goal. To be specific to those three games, I would have to look at exactly the situation we were in and those types of things. What we are trying to do each game, as you know, is to try and find ways to be explosive, based on the opponent we are playing, as well.”

On if the Browns will discuss this offseason whether or not it is beneficial to him as head coach to assign offensive play calling duties to offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt:

“All of that is stuff that we will reflect on and we will talk about. I will tell you just from a coaching staff communication standpoint, I thought the guys did an outstanding job throughout the year of making sure that on those headsets that we are communicating and throughout the week that we are communicating, making sure that we are all on the same page. I think AVP deserves a ton of credit in that regard.”

On if the Browns will make minor adjustments to the passing game this offseason or if the team will be open minded to making major changes:

“We definitely will go into it with an open mind. What that manifests itself in how major the changes are and how obvious they are remains to be seen. I have been in different offenses, and I have worked with different coordinators with varying philosophies so I do think you can pivot from year to year in terms of certain schemes and certain types of offense that you want to run. Those are the type of things that we definitely will be open minded about.”

On if there is a sense the Browns mainly need to make small changes to their approach, given the team only missed the postseason by a game or two:

“It kind of goes back to just being open minded and making sure that we are doing everything in our power to improve our play. Any part of operation if we can get better, we want to do that. To your point, that is what we talked about those missed opportunities because the margins are so razor thin. We want to make sure that you win those close games, and the difference in winning two more games is huge as we found out.”

On how much Mayfield’s shoulder injury and harness impacted performance this season and what provides optimism that things with Mayfield will be better in 2022, in addition to having surgery:

“The first part of the question – listen, we have really talked about it week in and week out – Baker fought through those injuries, was medically cleared to play each of those weeks, practiced throughout those weeks and felt good. You guys have spoken to Baker, and I do not think Baker is using any of that as an excuse, and also, not denying that guys play through injuries. He pushed through it. Again, I know there are plays and moments that he is going to want back. That is part of playing football, playing the quarterback position and trying to get better. Looking forward to him getting his surgery, spending some time in rehab and then getting back on it and finding ways to improve.”

On indications providing optimism that things with Mayfield will be better in 2022 once the surgery is complete:

“I think about it in terms of our entire team. We were inconsistent at times. We just have to string better play together both as a team and individually. I have seen Baker play at a very high level. I am confident he will get this surgery and he is going to work real hard this offseason to bounce back.”

On Mayfield’s performance in 2020 with similar personnel and scheme and if Mayfield would have been the same player if not facing the injury and adversity with it:

“I understand the question. It is just hard for me to speculate. Like I mentioned before, he battled through this injury, like a lot of the guys do. I do not say that to minimize how he did that. He pushed through it. I know he wants to perform better. I have seen him perform better. He played winning football for us. I fully expect him to bounce back next year.”

On if he is comfortable with how active Browns players are on social media during the season:

“I would tell you, I do not know – maybe there is a metric for this – that our team is on social media more than others. I know that is the generation right now. I think you just have to be very careful. I think everybody has to be very careful with social media because there is a lot – like we have discussed before – a lot of it is background noise. I think you just have to be careful with what you put out there because once it is out there, it is out there forever.”

On if he ever sensed that social media ‘background noise’ seeped into the locker room:

“I did not. No.”

On if the departure of former Browns and LA Rams WR Odell Beckham Jr. created a division in the locker room that was hard too overcome, given some Browns players said they wish Beckham would have remained with the team:

“It is hard for me to think back to November. All I would tell you with that situation in particular, guys want to be supportive of teammates, and that was a unique situation. To think of it past that is hard for me.”

On if the Browns did less in 2021 to foster team camaraderie compared to 2020:

“No, we did not do less of those type of things. Certainly, we will always try to be intentional about getting our guys around each other to build those relationships. Again, I mentioned it, it is important nowadays that you do that because you are on these busses and you are on these airplanes, everyone is wearing masks and you are meeting virtually so you ae not around each other and you are not sharing meals together. We just have to make sure we continue to be intentional about it.”

On the differences in fostering team camaraderie now compared to before COVID-19 protocols:

“This is not unique to us for sure, but I think pre-COVID and also pre-cellphone, think about the locker room when everybody actually talked to each other. I think it is a different world in that regard, and we just have to make sure that we are always strengthening those relationships in any way we can.”

On how much injuries to the Browns OL impacted the offense this season, including losing T Jack Conklin for most of the season:

“Injuries are a part of this game. Every single team faces injuries in some form or fashion. I do not think we are any different. Jack Conklin is a great player. To be without him is not ideal. That is our job as coaches and our job as players to next man up and adjust whatever we are doing based on who is in there. The different lineups along the offensive front are never what you are looking for. You are always looking for those five guys to play all 16 or 17 games together, and that may not be realistic. It certainly was not for us this season.”

On reflecting on what he could personally have done better this season:

“I definitely want to spend time looking at that and talking to the coaches and all of us reflecting on what we could have done better, and I certainly factor into that. It is just about making sure that we are giving our guys the opportunity to succeed. That is what we need to do.”

On Mayfield’s decision making this season and if those are areas Mayfield can continue to grow next season:

“For Baker and for all of our players, we are going outline ways that we feel they can improve and give them improvement plans when we get our hands back on them. Having those offseasons together are important for all of these guys. Just sitting here and go down a bunch of things that he needs to improve, it is just all of us – I would put all of us in that boat where you sit here and you are where we are, it is a full team effort of getting better.”

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