Allen Park — While his father is trying to push the right buttons for the Pistons, Kevin Stefanski is at the controls for the emerging Minnesota Vikings offense.
The offensive coordinator is the son of Ed Stefanski, the leader of Detroit’s NBA front office, and both were standout athletes in their respective sports at Pennsylvania.
The post-playing lives have also been successful for the Stefanskis, who grew up in the Philadelphia area.
One of the few holdovers from the previous staff when head coach Mike Zimmer took over the Vikings in 2014, the younger Stefanski has risen the ranks to lead Minnesota's offense, which this year ranked eighth in the NFL, one spot behind Detroit.
After a run as safety and a captain at Penn, helping the Quakers to three Ivy League titles, Stefanski took an entry-level job with the Philadelphia Eagles. There offensive coordinator Brad Childress was impressed with Stefanski and brought Kevin to Minnesota when Childress was hired as head coach in 2006.
“He’s smart, he’s a really good team guy, too. Everyone gets along with him, he knows how to really work with people,” said Lions tight ends coach Chris White, who worked with Stefanski in Minnesota. “And he’s just really funny. He has a great personality.”
When Zimmer took over, he got a recommendation to keep the then-tight ends coach around.
Zimmer said Wednesday that one reason he likes Stefanski is his experience being around Ed, who has spent more than 30 years in NBA front offices.
“He’s been around sports all the time. He’s very smart. He’s an Ivy League guy, very hard worker,” Zimmer said. “Then as his time has grown, I’ve given him different responsibilities, whether it would be the running backs or tight ends or quarterbacks, now offensive coordinator. I think he sees the game kind of how I see it. Then he’s done a nice job of mixing the calls in.”
Then the quarterbacks coach, Stefanski assumed the offensive coordinator mantle after John DeFilippo was fired late last season. One of his three games in the position last season was a 27-9 win at Ford Field against the Lions.
This year, former Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins is managing an efficient Minnesota offense with 23 touchdowns and four interceptions under Stefanski's tutelage.
Several outlets have bandied Stefanski’s name as a possible head coaching candidate in the future, including for the opening in Carolina created by this week's firing of Ron Rivera.
Stefanski also has Gary Kubiak, a former head coach, alongside as a consultant and mentor.
“I think Gary Kubiak has really helped him understand more about just calling plays, more about game management and things like that as well,” Zimmer said.
Added White: “A lot of guys would take offense to that, bringing in a consultant like that. But that’s not Kevin, anything that’s good for the team.”
The elder Stefanski, who was tasked with organizing the Pistons front office and carries the title of senior adviser to owner Tom Gores, declined to comment for this story.
Waynes serving notice
Though the Minnesota defense is no longer one of the league’s most dominant units, forrmer Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes continues to build his career.
Now in his fifth season, the former 11th overall pick is stepping up as older members of the Minnesota defense have seen declines in play.
“I think Trae has become much more aware of really all the little things that the corner has to know,” Zimmer said. “The down and distances, where his help is — initially it was just, ‘I’m going to go out here, and I’m going to do this.’ “And now I feel like he’s a lot more aware of his help, the weaknesses in the coverage, the strength in the coverages, formations, all the different things that you get — what the good corners do.”
While Xavier Rhodes has struggled on the other side, Waynes made a number of big plays to seal a win this month against Denver.
That should be no surprise for Spartans fans: His two primary seasons in East Lansing were the 2013 Rose Bowl championship season, and 2014, when MSU won the Cotton Bowl against Baylor.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.