It almost seems to figure that it would take a first-year head coach to get the Cleveland Browns out of the NFL’s longest playoff drought—and that when he gets them there, after an 11-5 season, the franchise’s best record since 1994, he comes down with a unique virus that requires him to miss the game.
That would be Kevin Stefanski, a longtime member of the Minnesota Vikings’ coaching staff, most recently as offensive coordinator, and a name that had been a hot commodity on the head coaching candidate circuit for the past few years. He was the preferred choice over other candidates within the Browns organization recently. Now the ones who chose against him are gone, and he has his team in the playoffs.
Only he can’t communicate with them while the game is going on. And the head coach who would be across from him, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, feels for Stefanski. The two worked together on the Vikings’ staff back in 2006.
“I’m sensitive to that”, he said of the Browns not having their head coach for this game, while speaking on The Mike Tomlin Show last night. “I feel for him on a personal note. Kevin and I have known each other for a long time. We worked together at the Minnesota Vikings”.
It goes deeper than that, of course. Stefanski is not the first coach, or even head coach, to contract the virus, though this is the biggest stage yet at which it has occurred. But everybody knew all year long that it is something that was possible.
“Professionally, it’s something that we have all continually dealt with through this 2020 season and into the playoffs, and so we’re all very cognizant of how fragile these environments are and our participation in this process”, Tomlin said. “I think we all have lived our lives with that understanding since the Summer, and so from that standpoint it’s not shocking”.
“As a matter of fact, from that standpoint, it’s become somewhat routine”, he went on, “to check our status daily, to see who we have available to us, and then proceed in an effort to make it a productive day. That’s the lifestyle professionally that we have lived, really, since July 20”.
He noted later in the interview that he wakes up early in the morning every day waiting for an e-mail regarding the test results for his players and staff from the previous day so he can get an understanding of who he’ll have to work with that day—even if they’ll be able to practice.
It’s been the reality of every team this year, making—hopefully—the 2020 season a unique one, and which has marred the Browns in a so far unique way. I do not, of course, wish them the best. I in fact hope they lose, by a lot. But that’s because they’re playing the Steelers.