The Cleveland Browns seemed to have hit a home run with the head coaching hire of Kevin Stefanski. The 2020 season was nothing but success with an 11 – 5 record, a playoff appearance and a playoff victory.
The Browns even took the Kansas City Chiefs to the brink before a helmet-to-helmet hit, that wasn’t called a penalty, and a Chad Henne scamble took the game away. (In fairness, Patrick Mahomes missing a big chunk of the game due to injury must also be mentioned.)
While expectations are through the roof for Stefanski and the Browns, it is important to note that it can be hard to replicate success in the NFL. Teams start to study tendencies, creativity wanes, loss of talented players (free agency or injury) or any other of the numerous variables that lead to NFL success could change.
On the other hand, those numerous variables could also lead to even more success for the coach and the team. While success, or failure, is rarely linear, success can grow rapidly if put in the right set of situations.
To get an idea of what could be expected from Stefanski and the Browns, we are taking a look back and rookie head coaches who had winning seasons and what happened the following year. Given the ebbs and flows of the NFL, we will just be looking back to hires starting in 2017. There are currently only seven head coaches who have been in their current position since before 2017.
(We are looking at team record because team record and coaching are forever linked despite, as noted, the vast number of variables that go into winning.)
Team: Packers Rookie Season: 2019 Rookie Record: 13 – 3 Second Season Record: 13 – 3 Having Aaron Rodgers and a talented team that has been together for a while is very helpful for Matt LaFleur. How he handles Rodgers’ absence/drama could impact his long-term future but his first two seasons have been highly successful. The Browns and Stefanski will hope for a similar, or better, record in his first two seasons at the head spot.
(AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
Team: Bucs Rookie Season: 2019 Rookie Record: 7 – 9 Second Season Record: 11 – 5 Bruce Arians doesn’t technically fit the list criteria as he did not have a winning season as a rookie BUT won it all in 2020 so we are putting him here. The addition of Tom Brady played a huge role as well as Arians significant history in the NFL including an interim head job with the Colts. While the Browns didn’t add a Brady-like talent, the team added a lot of talent to the defense and hopes to get a step of development from their quarterback, Baker Mayfield.
(Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports)
Team: Bears Rookie Season: 2018 Rookie Record: 12 – 4 Second Season Record: 8 – 8 A cautionary tale, Nagy’s Bears played very well in his first season but have started to slide since. Many were surprised that he was kept on as the head coach after the 2020 year. While the Bears issues are often focused on the failures of Mitchell Trubisky, Nagy was considered an offensive genius and his main job was to develop the young quarterback. Stefanski did well with Mayfield in year one but must prove that it will continue, and improve, in year two to avoid the Nagy comparison.
(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Team: Colts Rookie Season: 2018 Rookie Record: 10 – 6 Second Season Record: 7 – 9 Going from Andrew Luck to no Andrew Luck is a tough change for any coach. It is especially difficult for newer ones so Frank Reich being able to pull off even a 7 – 9 second season is impressive. Reich righted the ship the following year with an 11 – 5 record with Philip Rivers taking over and now needs to resuscitate Carson Wentz’s career. Turnover every season at the most important position is not the way any head coach wants to start their time at the top.
Team: Titans Rookie Season: 2018 Rookie Record: 9 – 7 Second Season Record: 9 – 7 Mike Vrabel’s Titans have been consistent since his arrival starting with his first two seasons. In his rookie year, his team didn’t make the playoffs but the following, with identical records, they did. The discussion around Vrabel will soon turn toward whether he can do more than just have a winning team and, instead, make real noise in the playoffs. While those aren’t fun conversations, they are much better than some of the alternative ones.
Team: Bills Rookie Season: 2017 Rookie Record: 9 – 7 Second Season Record: 6 – 10 Sean McDermott, who Paul DePodesta wanted to hire instead of Hue Jackson, broke the Bills playoff drought with Tyrod Taylor under center in 2017. In 2018, the Bills traded Taylor to the Browns and handed over the keys to the offense to Josh Allen. Needless to say, Allen struggled as a rookie and the Bills record fell. Since, Allen has shown good development and is not discussed among the young quarterbacks with high upside. McDermott’s defensive background has helped keep the team stable on the other side of the ball. With no big turnover at the most important position, Stefanski won’t have that excuse if the team’s record drops like the Bills. On the other hand, not having that turnover is a big reason not to expect it to drop in the first place.
(Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports)
Team: Rams Rookie Season: 2017 Rookie Record: 11 – 5 Second Season Record: 13 – 3 Sean McVay took the world by storm in his first season and kept the peddle to the metal in his second. The Rams have not had a losing season under McVay despite some poor quarterback play from Jared Goff. With Matthew Stafford behind center and a continued plan to spend as much money and draft capital on veterans, the Rams are set to compete in 2021 as well. The Browns would be thrilled to have that level of sustained success with Stefanski especially when we note, again, that only seven current head coaches were in their positions prior to 2017.