No longer bound by the interim label after being named the Minnesota Vikings’ 2019 offensive coordinator, Kevin Stefanski spoke Friday for the first time about his vision for the offense, which sputtered throughout the second half of the season as the Vikings missed the playoffs at 8-7-1.
Former play-caller John DeFilippo lost his job after Week 14 because of an over-reliance on the pass that exposed Kirk Cousins to pressure, marginalized Dalvin Cook and frustrated head coach Mike Zimmer. The goal for Stefanski? More physicality.
“I just know as an offense, not necessarily as an offensive line, as an offense, this is the NFC North,” Stefanski said, “so we’re going to be a physical group. Certainly when you talk about the offensive line and defensive line it starts there. That’s kind of going to be our thing moving forward.”
The Vikings have yet to name a new offensive line coach but have reportedly been in contact with former Green Bay Packers interim coach Joe Philbin. The new position coach will be looking to fill a void left by the late Tony Sparano, whose sudden passing before training camp produced ripple effects that sent the offense into “a downward spiral,” according to Zimmer.
Minnesota rushed it well in Stefanski’s debut against the Miami Dolphins, going for 220 yards on the ground, but they averaged just 82 rushing yards in the final two regular season games as the Vikings started slowly against the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears.
“I’m glad that I got an opportunity to do that,” said Stefanski. “I wish I could have done better. I wish we could have done better, but certainly it was a good experience for me having not called plays before.”
The 36-year-old Stefanski now has the entire offseason to enact change as he reshapes his offense around quarterback Kirk Cousins, receivers Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Cook. Zimmer said that Stefanski has already provided a list of things to do in the coming months, one of which will be breaking down everything that happened offensively a year ago and reconstructing it.
Stefanski has worked under three coordinators in the last three seasons — Norv Turner, Pat Shurmur and DeFilippo — whose varying philosophies may play a role in crafting a fresh scheme.
“We’re going to really pull this thing apart and be very diligent about that aspect of it,” Stefanski said. “What it ends up looking like, I think, remains to be seen. I have a pretty good idea of what I want it to look like and what Coach wants it to look like, but we’re going to work through that process and not skip any steps.”
While Stefanski’s track record is short, his presence provides the Vikings with a dose of continuity that’s been lacking on the offensive side of the ball. Not only has the offensive coordinator changed three times since 2016, but each of the four position groups has experienced a coaching change in the last two seasons, and the team’s Week 1 quarterback has changed each of the last six years.
Returning to the Vikings keeps Stefanski with the franchise he’s been with since 2006 and gives Cousins a chance to build on his relationship with his former quarterbacks coach. Cousins hasn’t had the same coordinator two consecutive years since 2015-16, when Sean McVay called plays for him in Washington.
“I was thrilled to hear that he’d be back,” said Cousins in a statement. “We feel like the continuity is very important, not only for me at the quarterback position but for our entire offense, for the young players learning the system and for our coaching staff to have the familiarity, as well.”