Browns coach Kevin Stefanski says he and Baker Mayfield 'work well together' and respect each other
The relationship between Browns coach Kevin Stefanski and quarterback Baker Mayfield has been under the microscope lately.
Scrutiny comes with the territory of a disappointing season, and the Browns recently finished 8-9 despite their Super Bowl expectations entering 2021.
Of course, Mayfield publicly criticizing Stefanski's play calling twice in the last month provided glimpses of frustration the franchise would have preferred stayed behind the scenes.
But the message the Browns have been sending this week is Stefanski and Mayfield had a good conversation Jan. 7 during the quarterback's end-of-season exit meeting, which was held a few days earlier than usual because Mayfield was shut down for the season finale this past weekend as he readies for Jan. 19 surgery on the completely torn labrum he suffered in his left, non-throwing shoulder in Week 2.
After the Browns defeated a bunch of backups and a few starters from the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals 21-16 on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, Stefanski said Mayfield left the exit meeting on a positive note.
On Thursday morning, Stefanski provided more detail about his relationship with Mayfield during an interview with Andy Baskin and Jeff Phelps on 92.3 The Fan.
“It's good. We talked. He's going to get surgery, which is huge for him, and he can start the rehab process here and get ready to jump back into it," Stefanski said. "But Baker and I, I think we work well together.
"I respect him. He respects me. I push him. He understands how we operate. We've had two years together, and I think as a team we've certainly just had our ups and downs. But I do think that we push each other, and there's definitely a level of respect there.”
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That answer is quite a bit different than the one Stefanski provided Jan. 7 when he was asked during a news conference about his relationship with Mayfield compared with the 2020 season, when the Browns went 12-6, including 1-1 in the playoffs.
“I would say it's no different," Stefanski said. "A good relationship.”
What does Mayfield think?
Well, he has not addressed Browns beat writers since Jan. 3, when he quarterbacked his final game of the season, a 26-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on "Monday Night Football" at Heinz Field.
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Fox sideline reporter Lindsay Czarniak said during Sunday's telecast she had spoken to Mayfield on the field before the game against the Bengals. Czarniak said Mayfield told her he recently had great conversations with Browns coaches and staff members about his plans for the future.
Also, a person familiar with the exit meeting between Mayfield and Stefanski told the Beacon Journal the QB and coach were on the same page during their discussion about moving ahead together and working out any issues that exist.
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By the time Stefanski held a season wrap-up news conference Monday, his talking points had shifted to Mayfield rebounding next season.
“I fully expect him to bounce back next year,” Stefanski said.
“He pushed through [injury]. I know he wants to perform better. I have seen him perform better. He played winning football for us.”
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Browns General Manager Andrew Berry followed Tuesday with the same sentiment, plus a public commitment to Mayfield as the team's starter in 2022, as least for now.
"We fully expect Baker to be our starter and bounce back," Berry said.
Asked about the relationship between Stefanski and Mayfield, given Mayfield's decision to make the world aware of his issues with the play calling, Berry said, "I don't have any concerns in terms of relationship or anything along those lines. I think it's pretty natural to have discussions around scheme as you go into any offseason. Those discussions have happened and will continue to happen with the appropriate parties."
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Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.