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Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski expected to return in 2023, owner wants key changes

Cleveland Browns, Kevin Stefanski

Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski was viewed as one of the rising names in the NFL after the team went 11-5 in 2020, with the Browns winning their first playoff game since 1994. Two years later, many fans are ready for Stefanski to be fired as part of sweeping changes to the team.

The Browns took an all-in approach this offseason, trading multiple first-round picks for quarterback Deshaun Watson and signing him to a guaranteed $230 million contract. With Jacoby Brissett as the fill-in starter and Amari Cooper added as a No. 1 receiver, many believed the Browns would still be in playoff contention when Watson returned from his suspension.

Related: Cleveland Browns schedule

However, things quickly unraveled for Cleveland. After a 2-2 start, it lost four consecutive games with growing unrest developing among the fan base. Signs of hope emerged before the bye thanks to a 32-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, but the Browns lost their first two games in November.

  • Kevin Stefanski record: 25-23

When Watson returned on Dec. 4, making his Browns’ debut against the Houston Texans, he rejoined a team that was 4-7. Thanks to the congested NFL standings, though, Cleveland still had an outside shot at making a playoff run if Watson played like a franchise-caliber quarterback.

While the Browns beat Houston, they dropped a rematch against Cincinnati a week later. The team also narrowly escaped with a 13-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, facing backup quarterback Tyler Huntley. On Christmas Eve, Cleveland’s offense fell flat again in a 17-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

It’s all been a reflection on issues with the Browns’ passing game in recent weeks. For a unit that already ranks 14th in scoring (21.5 PPG) and 22nd in points per play (.321), Stefanski’s offense is now performing worse with Watson than it did with Brissett.

  • Cleveland Browns offense (Week 1-12): 222.5 pass ypg, 12-7 TD-INT, 7.1 ypa, 86 QB rating
  • Cleveland Browns offense (Week 13-16): 167 pass ypg, 2-3 TD-INT, 5.7 ypa, 67.5 QB rating

Related: NFL offense rankings

After the Browns were officially eliminated from playoff contention on Saturday, calls from the fan base for Stefanski to be fired have picked up. However, it appears the franchise has no plans on making a change at head coach.

According to Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports, Stefanski is expected to return as the Browns’ head coach in 2023. In the face of speculation about a potential firing, team owner Jimmy Haslam reportedly hasn’t even considered making a change.

While Stefanski will return next season, he will need to make significant changes to the coaching staff that will change how both the offense and defense look in 2023.

Cleveland Browns owner eyeing Air Raid-style offense

NFL: New York Jets at Cleveland Browns
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Haslam is a University of Tennessee alum and one of the biggest boosters for the Tennessee Volunteers football program. Witnessing the success Tennessee had in its rejuvenated 2022 season has reportedly influenced what Haslam wants from the Browns.

According to CBS Sports, Haslam would like changes to the Browns’ offense that could mirror some of the concepts of the Air Raid offense. As the college football world saw, Volunteers’ head coach Josh Heupel’s implementation of the Air Raid offense led to Tennessee having one of the best offenses in the FBS.

Adopting some of those schemes could dramatically alter the Browns’ play-calling next year. Cleveland ranks ninth in rush rate (47.76%), depending heavily on Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to carry the offense.

If Haslam’s wishes influence what Stefanski does next season, Cleveland could shift to passing on at least 60% of its plays with more spread formations. However, it’s worth considering that the implementation of Air Raid concepts into the Arizona Cardinals offense by Kliff Kingsbury hasn’t translated to sustained success over a full season.

One change that will likely have a positive influence on Cleveland next season is the expected firing of defensive coordinator Joe Woods, who hasn’t taken advantage of a defense with some of the highest-paid players in the NFL.