There’s something about Ohio teams in the NFL when they hire a new coach, lately. They just simply cannot decide who should be calling the plays. It’s happened twice with the Cleveland Browns already, and it’s set to happen once again after hiring their third different coach since 2016.
Their latest head coach is Kevin Stefanski, who raised his profile as the offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings. The Browns gutted their coaching staff after letting go of Freddie Kitchens following just one season—who had been hired on the strength of his play-calling performance as interim offensive coordinator during the second half of the 2018 season.
Kitchens, like Hue Jackson, Pat Shurmer, and Rob Chudzinski before him, was adamant about retaining play-calling responsibilities for himself, thinking that’s what got him the job in the first place so he might as well keep doing it. The Browns have yet to determine if Stefanski will follow, however.
As we sit here in February, the current plan is to allow Alex Van Pelt, the team’s new offensive coordinator whose background is primarily as a quarterbacks coach, to call the plays during the preseason. This is actually what the Pittsburgh Steelers did for Randy Fichtner the year before they moved on from Todd Haley and promoted him.
“It’s just something that I don’t think we need to make a decision on right this moment here in February”, Stefanski said to the local press when asked about who will be calling the plays for the Browns this season.
“But I think in fairness to AVP, I think I need to give him some opportunities to call it in practice, call it in the preseason so that I can get comfortable with him calling it, or I can get comfortable with me calling it, but that’s definitely a fluid situation and Alex understands that”.
It’s a good idea in theory, but there are problems doing it in practice. The Browns have a young offense with a third-year quarterback who has already had a couple of different play-callers in his ear. Now he could have two different ones in the same season.
There is an important connection between the quarterback and the play-caller. Over time, you build a certain collaborative relationship that informs decisions. It’s a lot harder to do that when you’re changing who the voice is in the quarterback’s ear, and it’s even more difficult when that quarterback is young.
Still, the Browns might not have a viable alternative right now. They have to do who would be best to call the plays, and if they don’t actually know right now, then the only way to actually find out is to try it out.