The rise in prominence of offensive play-callers being favored for head coaching jobs has led to an interesting subsection of the offensive coordinator role, where many of them don’t call their own plays. After all, if a head coach got where they are through their skills as a play-caller, why would they risk losing their primary asset?
One of those now many head coaches is the Cleveland Browns’ Kevin Stefanski, who has retained that task after earning respect in that role as the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive coordinator. That’s left the team’s actual offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, assigned to other tasks.
Now after the Browns lost their quarterbacks coach this offseason, Van Pelt has another hat to wear. He will function as the team’s quarterbacks coach as well. It’s nothing new for him, anyway; he’s had nine years’ worth of NFL experience as a quarterbacks coach with four different organizations. But he’s never held a dual role before, at least formally, something that is much more common in college.
The Steelers used Randy Fichtner as dual offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2018-19, and that didn’t work out too well. Fichtner was also responsible for calling plays, however, and had never served as coordinator at the NFL level previously. He admitted on a number of occasions during his three seasons in the role that he was learning on the job.
Van Pelt spent one season as offensive coordinator in Buffalo all the way back in 2009, but has been in that role for Cleveland for the past three seasons. The Pittsburgh native—who was a quarterback at Pitt, and was even drafted by the Steelers in the eighth round in 1993—is now tasked with nurturing an offense around Deshaun Watson as well as being his position coach.
The Browns traded for Watson last year after they grew confident that he wouldn’t face criminal charges stemming from dozens of formal civil lawsuits filed against him from female massage therapists who accused him of sexual harassment or assault in a relatively short period of time while with the Houston Texans.
They gave up, in part, three first-round draft picks, and broke league precedent by offering him a fully guaranteed five-year contract worth $230 million. The previous record for such a substantial contract being fully guaranteed was a three-year deal signed by Kirk Cousins after coming off multiple franchise tags.
Watson missed the first 11 games of his first season in Cleveland, however, while serving a suspension stemming from the many accusations of sexual impropriety levied against him. While he was around the team throughout the offseason and during the preseason, he had to be away from the facility for most of the length of the period of actual suspension.
Cleveland knew that 2022 would thus be a transitional year. They are hoping that keeping the staff close to Watson by giving the quarterback coach job to Van Pelt will help facilitate the growth necessary to take this offense where it ought to be, considering the price—financially and otherwise—they’ve chosen to pay.