It seems as though one of the more recent perennial traditions for the Cleveland Browns has been to unnecessarily create a play-caller controversy. After repeatedly hiring offensive-minded head coaches coming from offensive coordinator positions who have been hired for their play-calling, these recent head coaches, even before Hue Jackson, have been reluctant to relinquish those responsibilities, even after showing poor results on their own.
Last year’s edition was Freddie Kitchens, who started the 2018 season as the running backs coach before being promoted to offensive coordinator after both Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley were fired midseason. The offensive improvement over the year led to a false belief that it was about Kitchens. He was fired after one year.
And replaced by Kevin Stefanski of the Minnesota Vikings, another coach coming in based on his offensive resume and play-calling past. Like Jackson and Kitchens, he has an offensive coordinator. Like Jackson and Kitchens, he has at best been reluctant to give up play-calling duties.
Through the early days of padded practices, at least, Stefanski has been allowing his offensive coordinator, Alex Van Pelt, to run the plays. What this means, if anything, remains to be seen, of course, because a lot of things can change between now and the start of the season.
Said Stefanski on figuring out who will call the plays, “we are going to work through that. With practices, they are scripted. It is really just relaying the play that is already scripted. We are working through that and will announce that when it is appropriate”.
In the defense of coaches like Stefanski, it’s hard to relinquish the thing that earned you your reputation to begin with, especially as a rookie head coach. You want to succeed or fail based on your strengths, but at the same time, you could be taking on more than you can handle. Kitchens certainly did.
With a limited offseason, the decision about who will call the plays on Sundays is no clearer. There will be no preseason games, for example, to get a feel for how it would work in an in-game scenario. The best they can do is run scrimmages.
Notably, neither Stefanski nor Van Pelt has an extensive history of calling plays, no more than a couple of seasons. Each of them have primarily held a variety of jobs as position coaches all around the offense, rather than being the one with the microphone.
Most recently, Van Pelt spent the past two seasons as the Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterbacks coach. He previously served one year with the Buffalo Bills in 2009 as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, the only time he held the former role at any level before this season.