This would appear to have been a rough couple of weeks for Kevin Stefanski.
The Vikings’ quarterbacks coach was one of five known candidates to be interviewed for the team’s offensive coordinator position after Pat Shurmur was named head coach of the New York Giants. That came a day after the Vikings’ season ended with a thud in a 38-7 loss in Philadelphia.
There had been speculation that the 35-year-old Stefanski would be promoted by the Vikings, but on Friday the team hired Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo to run its offense. It was expected that since Stefanski had been passed over by the Vikings that he would then be named Shurmur’s offensive coordinator in New York.
But on Saturday ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Giants had been denied permission to interview and hire Stefanski. This was a little surprising since Shurmur had been waiting to hire his offensive coordinator in part because he wanted it to be Stefanski, if the Vikings went in a different direction with their coordinator. Shurmur will handle the play-calling duties, but Stefanski and Shurmur clearly had developed a level of trust that made Shurmur think it was worth waiting to see what Minnesota did.
The Vikings had every right to block this move and keep Stefanski as their quarterbacks coach because he remains under contract. NFL rules allow clubs to deny assistant coaches under contract the opportunity to interview with other teams for assistant coaching positions, even if the interview is for a job that is a promotion.
But does that make it the right thing?
Stefanski joined the Vikings in 2006 after Brad Childress was hired as coach. Stefanski’s title was assistant to the head coach through the 2008 season and this meant taking care of a variety of jobs. This included monitoring the weather during training camp to inform Childress whether it was safe to practice or if an approaching storm might be reason to move inside. Childress, jokingly, referred to Stefanski as “Tommy Doppler.”
Stefanski was promoted to assistant quarterbacks coach in 2009 and held that job through 2013. That meant he survived the changes that took place following the 2010 season, when Leslie Frazier was promoted from interim head coach to the full-time job following Childress’ firing. Stefanski again was retained when Mike Zimmer replaced Frazier in 2014.
Stefanski spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons as the Vikings’ tight ends coach, was the running backs coach in 2016 and then began coaching the quarterbacks this season.
The Vikings’ decision to block Stefanski from joining Shurmur means the team clearly thinks highly of him. Nonetheless, if the Vikings were going to tell Stefanski they didn’t think he was good enough to be their coordinator, it is a slap to now make him stick around in a lesser position.
This also is a flaw in the NFL’s system when it comes to assistants because it’s not just the Vikings who are guilty of stopping their position coaches from talking to other clubs about coordinator jobs. Last year, the Eagles did the same thing to DeFilippo when the New York Jets wanted to interview him about their offensive coordinator job.
Some will say that this is fair because assistant coaches are employees who are under contract. But the NFL doesn’t allow teams to block assistants from talking to other teams about a head coaching job. The same thing should go for a position coach who has the chance to become a coordinator. That experience can be an important step toward becoming a head coach.
Vikings fans will defend the team by pointing out that Stefanski will be in line to get promoted after next season if DeFilippo’s first season in Minnesota is a success and he gets a head coaching job somewhere else.
But that’s a big assumption and also assumes Stefanski will have an interest in sticking around Minnesota after the Vikings stood in his way of getting a promotion this time.
Hopefully, for Stefanski’s sake, the Vikings increased his compensation when they informed him they were not going to let him talk to the Giants.
The NFL, meanwhile, needs to change its rules and allow guys like Stefanski to get out of their contract, if they are presented with an opportunity to move on to bigger and better things.