Perhaps this is the year of the recently appointed offensive coordinator in Cleveland.
Freddie Kitchens and Kevin Stefanski are finalists for the head coaching job of the Browns, NFL Network reported Tuesday.
Kitchens interviewed Monday, and he has a legitimate chance to be hired, a person familiar with the coaching search told the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com. He did not simply receive a courtesy interview after serving as the offensive coordinator of the Browns for the final eight games of the 2018 season.
Stefanski interviewed Thursday, and, per the league’s network, traveled Tuesday to Northeast Ohio to meet with the Browns again. Stefanski, who became the offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings for the final three games of the season after they fired John DeFilippo, is the only known candidate to receive a second interview.
There could be a twist to the Kitchens-Stefanski situation. Because Stefanski’s contract expired Tuesday, he could actually make a lateral move without permission from the Vikings. So there is a possibility the Browns could hire Kitchens as head coach and Stefanski as offensive coordinator. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported last weekend that Stefanski is not expected to return to the Vikings by his choice.
On Tuesday, NFL Network reported Kitchens is receiving strong consideration, as evidenced by the Browns calling people Monday night who have worked with him in the past. Cleveland.com cited sources Tuesday who said Kitchens has a good chance to be named head coach and several Browns assistants had already been asked to stay.
The Browns have interviewed seven candidates, with the initial wave going as follows: Browns interim coach Gregg Williams (Jan. 1), former Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell (Jan. 2), Stefanski (Thursday), New Orleans Saints assistant head coach/tight ends coach Dan Campbell (Friday), New England Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores (Saturday), Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus (Sunday) and Kitchens (Monday).
The Browns had reportedly been interested in meeting with former Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy and Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, but neither of those interviews has taken place, and if they were going to happen, they likely would have by now. ESPN.com reported the Browns talked to McCarthy or his representatives Monday and things were put on hold while Cleveland had discussions with other candidates. Then on Tuesday, the network reported McCarthy doesn't want to be considered for any job other than the New York Jets' head coaching gig.
The process of hiring a coach could wrap up in the next few days if Kitchens and Stefanski are the only finalists. Both of them are free to finalize a contract any time unlike some of the other candidates who were interviewed. Campbell, Flores and Eberflus are not eligible to be hired until their teams are done with the playoffs.
Kitchens, 44, brought collaboration and creativity to the offense and used his sharp sense of humor to form a special bond with rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield after the Browns promoted the former University of Alabama quarterback from running backs coach/associate head coach to offensive coordinator on Oct. 29. They promoted Williams from defensive coordinator to interim coach and fired coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley on the same day.
The Browns finished the season 7-8-1 after going 2-5-1 under Jackson and Haley and then 5-3 under Williams and Kitchens.
They averaged 23.8 points and 395.1 yards per game with Kitchens guiding the offense as a first-time play caller. They averaged 21.1 points and 342.4 yards per game with Haley controlling the offense.
The Browns made it known how much they value Kitchens when last week they denied him permission to interview with other teams for offensive coordinator jobs.
Stefanski, 36, has spent all 13 of his seasons as an NFL assistant coach with the Vikings. He survived two head coaching changes en route to becoming their longest-tenured coach and has worked with their quarterbacks, running backs and tight ends. He joined the Vikings in 2006, working on administrative duties and special projects for Brad Childress, a former Browns offensive coordinator who stepped down Tuesday as the head coach of the Alliance of American Football's Atlanta Legends.
A former standout defensive back at the University of Pennsylvania and the son of longtime NBA executive Ed Stefanski, the younger Stefanski had an opportunity last offseason to interview for the offensive coordinator job of the New York Giants blocked by Vikings coach Mike Zimmer.
On Dec. 11, the Vikings promoted Stefanski from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator after ousting DeFilippo. The Vikings averaged 26 points and 307.3 yards per game with Stefanski calling their plays in the final three weeks of the season. With DeFilippo, they averaged 21.7 points and 354.4 yards per game.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read his Browns coverage at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByNateUlrich and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.