Kevin Stefanski took home the top honor for his profession Saturday, the night before the Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when he was named the Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year.
Stefanski, in his first season as an NFL head coach, led the Browns to the team's first playoff appearance since 2002 and first playoff victory in 26 years.
“Kevin is more than deserving of this award as he has consistently messaged and embodied a team-first approach in everything he does,” said team owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam in a press release. “While Kevin will most certainly downplay his personal contributions, his steady demeanor and servant leadership have been and will continue to be incredibly impactful for our football team and entire organization. We are proud to have Kevin as our head coach and this honor reflects his and our team’s collective accomplishments.”
Stefanski delivered a video acceptance speech at the NFL Honors awards show — a fitting culmination for a season in which Stefanski and coaches around the NFL conducted the majority of meetings from behind a computer screen because of the coronavirus pandemic and Stefanski himself spent a playoff game in his own basement after a positive COVID-19 test.
“I’m incredibly humbled, especially given some of the coaching we’ve witnessed this season around the NFL,” Stefanski said. “My name may be on this award but I think this speaks to the amazing support I get day in and day out from my coaching staff with the Cleveland Browns. I’m very glad I don’t have to do this by myself."
Stefanski earned similar honors last month from Sporting News and the Pro Football Writers of America. He’s the first to earn all three awards in the same season since Dayton native and Miami University alumnus Sean McVay in 2017, with the Los Angeles Rams.
“For him to be a first-time head coach, no real offseason and navigating the challenges of an NFL season amid a global pandemic, it’s remarkable,” Browns Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry said in a press release. “His poise, his ability to handle adversity and ultimately lead our team through adversity the entire year, whether it was a loss, injuries, having players, coaches, staff out for COVID-related reasons, he never lost his cool, he never lost his poise. It obviously showed with the on-field results.”
Stefanski, who joined the Browns in January 2020 after a long stint in various positions with the Minnesota Vikings, notched the most wins by a first-year Browns head coach since Paul Brown had 12 in the team's inaugural season in 1946.
Stefanski's 11 regular season wins were the most by any first-year head coach in 2020 and marked just the 11th time since 1970 that a first-year coach has won 11 or more games. The Browns were the only team to make the playoffs this season with a first-year head coach.
Cleveland was one of just four teams in the league to not lose consecutive games, another credit to Stefanski’s leadership, Berry said.
“Every Monday, win or loss, was really the same thing for us,” Berry said. “He really did a great job of protecting our cocoon, so to speak. The season can be emotional. It can be emotional particularly externally whether you have a big win or an ugly loss. Kevin's mindset was when we come in on Monday, we should look to improve and we should look to work. It really should feel the same regardless of the outcome on Sunday. That's a credit to his steady hand.”