While the NFL is a performance-based business, it’s a people business first and foremost.
Stefanski’s success as Browns head coach is tied directly to how successful Baker Mayfield is on the field.
That’s why in February Stefanski traveled to visit Mayfield at his home in Austin, Texas so the two could have some personal time together, outside the formal setting of the Browns complex in Berea.
“That was our first time in person to get to talk about life and get to know each other,” Stefanski said Friday afternoon on a Zoom video conference call with reporters.
The trip left Stefanski feeling good about what they could accomplish together.
“From that moment until now I’ve been very impressed with Baker,” Stefanski said. “He is all ball. He understands his role. He understands what we want him to do in this offense. He’s doing it on the field.”
Little did Stefanski realize ho important that visit would be. Days later, the world came to a halt due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their communication since has been relegated to texts and video conference calls.
The unusual circumstances didn’t slow Mayfield’s preparation. Quite the contrary.
Mayfield came to camp leaner and stronger this year.
“It’s really impressive. He did a nice job,” Stefanski said. “And that just doesn’t happen [on its own]. There’s a lot of work that goes into that, and he clearly has done the work.”
Stefanski is Mayfield’s third full time head coach and fourth in three years if you count the eight games Gregg Williams held the interim tag for during the 2018 season. Since being selected No. 1 overall in 2018, Mayfield has had to spend his offseasons learning a new offense – Hue Jackson’s as a rookie, Freddie Kitchens’ last year and now Stefanski’s – instead of progressing within an existing system.
Mayfield has done all he can over the course of the last five months to prepare himself for training camp and the upcoming season, a fact noticeable to Stefanski during the few walk-throughs they’ve been able to hold over the last week.
“I see a very committed football player who’s ready to lead,” Stefanski said.
Mayfield has a fiery and magnetic personality that endears himself to his teammates, and that’s an intangible that Stefanski can’t teach, but it can help them win football games together.
“Baker’s a really good teammate. I think he really understands his teammates. I think his teammates want to play hard for him. That just goes back to that thing he’s got, that nobody can put a finger on and that the quarterback position has to have. You gotta have ‘it.’
“The number one job of a quarterback is to make the guys around you play better and there’s a bunch of different ways to do that. It’s like a point guard on a basketball team. I jus think Baker has embraced all of that from the moment he and I have gotten to know each other.”