Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski has been named Coach of the Year by Sporting News and the Pro Football Writer's Association. The AFC North franchise reached the postseason for the first time since 2002 and even won its first playoff game -- an 48-37 decision over rival Steelers -- since 1995. The team's 11-5 regular season record was the best since the Browns' fabled run in 1994.
Stefanski is the first Browns coach to win Sporting News Coach of the Year since Paul Brown in 1953. He would be the first to win Associated Press Coach of the Year since 1976. The former is voted on by the league's coaches.
The PFWA's selection has been in line with the Associated Press for each of the past 11 years. The last time they differed was in 2008, when Atlanta's Mike Smith was recognized by the AP and Miami's Tony Sparano by the PFWA.
Stefanski addressed the media on Monday and reflected on all that the team was able to accomplish.
"Looking back on the season, as we all do when the finality of this thing and it is over, I think we definitely achieved a lot," he said. "We did some things we set out to do, but ultimately, we came up short and there is a very real sense of disappointment there among our players and coaches right now. We can definitely look back and see some things that we accomplished and be proud of that."
The roster dramatically improved in one season and that is in part due to the working relationship with Andrew Berry, executive vice president of football operations and general manager.
"Part of it is just Kevin is just a great guy. He is easy to work with, a good human being and very smart. As I have mentioned multiple times on here, a great sense of humor. Ultimately, we are like-minded in terms of how we how we see things, whether it is football philosophy, how we want football operations to work together and really just our overall approach," Berry said Wednesday.
"It does not mean we agree on everything all of the time, but we are able to have those discussions and work through any disagreements together. He is a fantastic partner. I am incredibly blessed to be working with him."
Stefanski is in his first season with the organization after previously serving as the Vikings offensive coordinator. More impressive than his team's accomplishments has been the overall change of attitude in the locker room. For years, fans had heard the cliche phrase "changing the culture" without seeing any results. It is clear to see that players have bought in to the new coach's message.
The team lost key players, including wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., to injury over the course of the season and received valuable contributions down the depth chart. When COVID-19 held them to just two practices over the final two weeks of the regular season, they never passed blame or made excuses. The ultimate test came in the franchise's first playoff appearance in 18 years when Stefanski tested positive and was forced to watch the wild-card game from his home. During that week, he downplayed his role and continued pushing the message that no one player or coach is more valuable than the team.
Cleveland went 6-10 last season under head coach Freddie Kitchens. For the first time in awhile, a coach has Browns fans thinking about the future rather than lamenting on the past.