CLEVELAND -- When Browns players departed the team's facility in Berea, Ohio, following the conclusion of a disappointing 2019 season, a familiar need emerged from their exit interviews: leadership.
Cleveland believes it has found that leader in Kevin Stefanski.
The organization introduced Stefanski as its new head coach to a packed media room inside FirstEnergy Stadium on Tuesday. Stefanski's hiring was the result of a process that included interviewing eight candidates and speaking with an extensive number of references as part of an effort to avoid past mistakes and bring together all forces of influence into one clear vision, starting with its coach at the front of the pack.
"My leadership style is to be authentic. I'm going to be me," Stefanski said. "And I think that's good enough and I'm going to be direct with our players and they're gonna get to know me and I'm gonna get to know them. I want to lead from a relationship standpoint; I want them to understand what I'm about. There will be no mistake, just like today, I'm ready and willing and excited to lead from out in front as I stand before you. And I'm also ready and willing to step back and let the success and shine the light on our players, which is where it should be.
"To use a basketball term so my dad can understand this: I want to be the point guard for this organization. I want to bring the ball up, but then I want to share the basketball and let somebody else get an easy bucket."
Easy buckets were rarely found by a Browns team that should've had plenty of layups, considering the talent on its roster. Whatever the reason for that may be, Stefanski is focused on ensuring communication, understanding and execution all come as a result of a collaborative effort from the top down, a goal the franchise wants to achieve after years of internal strife. That was evident in the smiles on the faces of Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta, among others during Tuesday's introductory press conference.
Such an effort will be grounded in one daily focus, Stefanski said: quiet, consistent and relentless work.
"I'm not gonna stand up here and make any bold predictions about what we're gonna do this year," Stefanski said. "I'm not gonna speak anything into existence right now. I can just promise you that we're gonna work. I've already spoken to a few of our players already and that's what I'm about. I'm about working and I'm about putting a foundation together.
"We will be methodical about it. We will not skip step Nos. 2 and 3 to get to 4. We're gonna start on the foundation and then we're gonna reinforce that foundation so we can build upon it. And when I'm talking about this, I'm talking about schemes and technique. We'll be diligent about with working with our players so they can develop into the best versions of themselves. And ultimately we're building a foundation for what we hope is a championship effort. We'll have a culture of accountability."
Stefanski spent Monday in the team's facility getting his feet under him and came away believing the Browns "have the right people" in the building. They'll still have to add more, starting with a coaching staff and general manager. Those hires are expected to occur in the next week or two, as interviews are scheduled with prospective executives and the coaching carousel continues to turn.
Stefanski himself was just that to the Browns last year: a candidate. He was a finalist, but didn't earn the job, as former Browns general manager John Dorsey chose Freddie Kitchens over Stefanski. With both now gone from the organization and Stefanski speaking from a podium and role he almost gained a year ago, he's not worried about why he was good enough the second time around.
"I am undeterred and I am undaunted," he said. "And I think the challenge is there and I can't wait to be a part of this change."
He'll get his first chance to prove why he was the right guy for the job all along with the start of the 2020 season. There's plenty more to sort out before then, though.
Here's a roundup of some of those questions that remain:
-- Stefanski's most recent job was offensive coordinator of the wild-card winning Minnesota Vikings. That background makes one think he might continue to call plays in Cleveland, but the coach is open to all possibilities.
"I think we're gonna work through that," he said. "I think as we put the staff together if there's someone that's on staff that I feel gives us the best chance to win, that person will call plays. It doesn't have to be me, but I think I want to work through that and see as we put this staff together."
-- Stefanski recited a line heard plenty from a lot of coaches around the NFL in relation to the Browns' offensive approach. With a stable of excellent running backs and equally stellar receivers, but not enough of an emphasis on maximizing either in 2019, folks want to know: Will these Browns be a run-first or pass-first team?
The answer: neither. They'll be "multiple," meaning they'll be capable of winning either way.
"It's nice to sit here and start think about how we can attack a defense, cause you can do it and be multiple," Stefanski said. "And that's one of the things you'll hear me talk about is being multiple. I bring that up because it's just these defenses are so good in the NFL, if you're one-dimensional they can kinda pin their ears back. We'll try to be explosive, obviously, in the run and the pass game, but starting with the players as we think about putting our scheme together, we're gonna start with our guys and then we're gonna maximize the talents of the key players."
-- After a season in which Baker Mayfield and the rest of the offense was never quite on the same page, the coach was asked about the future involving the quarterback.
"I will just tell you that the skillset that our quarterback has is legit," Stefanski said. "He's as accurate as they come. I think there's plenty of things that we'll do schematically to hopefully make life easy on him -- easier on him. Looking forward to the jump that this kid'll take. He's such a young player and the guys I've been around, when they put their mind to it and they start to grind on this thing and understand the whys and the concepts that we're teaching; I really think this kid has a chance to take off."
Jimmy Haslam mentioned after the presser when speaking with reporters Stefanski's past work with Vikings quarterbacks Case Keenum and Kirk Cousins, who both led Minnesota to playoff appearances, with the former seeing his skills maximized while coached by Stefanski. Haslam said such a track record gives him confidence his team's new head coach will have a similar effect on Mayfield, who he said was "given a hard time by a lot of people" in 2019.
-- Stefanski said his year spent as a play-caller with the help of veteran coach Gary Kubiak helped him become a better coach, and he continues to focus on improving in that regard.
"In this last calendar year, I feel like I've become a better coach," Stefanski said. "That's something that I'm going to strive for every year, become a better coach. The fact that now I'm the head coach of the Cleveland Browns is obviously new. If anything, it means that my kids are excited that I'll be in Madden next year. But I'm ready for the challenge."
-- Stefanski had to answer to a few questions related to football's dirty word: analytics.
"I'm looking for any edge we can get on game day. And certainly analytics I know is another buzz word out there, but we're looking to make informed decisions," Stefanski said. "So as a play-caller or whether, maybe in player evaluation, information is power. So we like to have a lot of information that informs our decisions."
As for the report he'd have to have an analytics meeting on Fridays during the season, Stefanski said it was a bunch of nonsense.
"It's not true. I like that report," Stefanski said with a smile. "It was a good one. It's silly season for that type of stuff, I understand that. To me analytics, I can't say it enough, it's a tool. It's a tool that helps."