Stefanski fires OC Van Pelt, 2 other coaches

Published 8:48 pm Wednesday, January 17, 2024

CLEVELAND (AP) — For the second straight year, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski has made a major offseason change to his staff.

Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt has parted ways with the team, leaving just days after Cleveland was blown out in the wild-card round by Houston and following a season in which the Browns were ravaged by injuries.

A team spokesman confirmed Wednesday that Van Pelt is no longer with the Browns. Also, Stefanski fired running backs coach Stump Mitchell and tight ends coach T.C. McCartney was not retained after his contract expired.

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The shakeup might not be over as the Browns continue to hold staff evaluations.

They’ve quickly moved on from Mitchell and are interviewing Duce Staley to be his replacement. The 48-year-old Staley was most recently an assistant head coach and running backs coach with Carolina before being fired.

Following a 7-10 season in 2022, Stefanski fired defensive coordinator Joe Woods and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer. Those moves led to the hiring of Jim Schwartz, who turned Cleveland’s defense into one of the NFL’s best this season, and Bubba Ventrone, who dramatically improved special teams.

Van Pelt’s departure is a surprise. It was immediately known if he was fired or resigned.

He and Stefanski appeared to have a strong relationship, and just last week Van Pelt praised his boss for the job he did during a challenging season.

“He’s awesome,” Van Pelt said of Stefanski, who has led the Browns to the playoffs twice in four seasons. “I’ve enjoyed every second with him. He’s coached a lot of football, different schemes. His ability to change on a dime based on who this player, his starter is at quarterback I thought has been really remarkable.

“But the message, the culture he’s built here over the last four years, I’m really proud to be on his staff.”

However, while Van Pelt helped in putting game plans together, Stefanski handled all play-calling duties on game day. Van Pelt may have wanted an increased role and wasn’t going to get it with the Browns.

It’s also possible Stefanski is looking for someone to help him better suit Cleveland’s offense to quarterback Deshaun Watson, who made just six starts before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury and undergoing surgery.

All three assistants had been with Stefanski since he was hired in 2020.

The Browns went 11-6 and made the playoffs this season despite a wave of injuries and having to start five quarterbacks. However, they were abruptly bounced from the playoffs on Saturday, losing 45-14 to the Houston Texans.

Stefanski said Sunday that some of his assistants would be leaving for other opportunities in the coming weeks.

Mitchell, a former NFL running back, just completed his fourth season with the Browns. He spent much of the season trying to help the team cope with the loss of star Nick Chubb, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2.

Mitchell has coached in the league for more than two decades.

McCartney helped develop David Njoku into one of the league’s best tight ends. Njoku finished with career highs in catches (81), yards (882) and touchdowns (6) this season.

Cleveland’s offense was in constant flux from the opener.

The Browns lost Watson to a shoulder injury in November, and the team signed free agent Joe Flacco, who went 4-1 as a starter and surpassed expectations before he threw two pick-6s against the Texans. Cleveland also played much of the season with backups at both starting tackle spots.