Browns give coach Stefanski contract extensions

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By Tom Withers

AP Sports Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) — For most of two decades, the Browns were an NFL laughingstock — often dysfunctional, rarely relevant.

Kevin Stefanski and Andrew Berry helped change Cleveland.

And they’re not going anywhere.

The Browns rewarded Stefanski, the reigning AP Coach of the Year, and Berry, one of the league’s bright, young general managers, with multiyear contract extensions on Wednesday after they brought success and stability to an organization that had little before their arrival.

The extensions have been expected for months and were announced as the Browns were on the practice field.

Terms of the deals were not immediately known. Both Stefanski and Berry had one year left on five-year deals signed in 2020.

Before Stefanski and Berry were hired, the Browns had two winning seasons, one postseason appearance, a 101-234-1 record — including an 0-16 finish in 2017 — in 21 years since their 1999 expansion rebirth.

They’ve been a perfect pairing, and after so much trial and error, Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam wanted to guarantee they’d be around for longer.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have Kevin Stefanski and Andrew Berry leading the Cleveland Browns,” the Haslams said. “Since the day they were hired, each has worked tirelessly to help the Cleveland Browns win. We are proud of what they and the team have achieved, but Kevin and Andrew would be the first to say that Browns fans deserve even more.

“Their leadership, collaborative approach, and ability to overcome obstacles bode well for the future of this franchise.”

Stefanski led the Browns to an 11-6 record and a playoff appearance last season despite a rash of injuries, including losing quarterback Deshaun Watson with a shoulder injury after six starts. Cleveland started — and won — with four different QBs.

Stefanski was voted the league’s top coach for the second time following the season. The 41-year-old is 37-30 with two playoff appearances in four seasons.

He had never been a head coach before getting to Cleveland, spending 13 years working his way up the ladder in Minnesota. Stefanski had to navigate around the COVID pandemic in his first season, when the Browns ended a long playoff drought.

However, Stefanski wasn’t with the team for its wild-card win in Pittsburgh after testing positive with the virus.

Last season, Stefanski had to adapt on a weekly basis due to injuries, especially to his QBs.

After Watson broke his shoulder and had surgery, Stefanski won with journeyman P.J. Walker and rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson starting. Stefanski then adjusted his offense to suit veteran Joe Flacco, who was signed by Berry and came off his couch to lead the Browns to the playoffs with a remarkable final stretch.

“They are two of the brightest people we know, and selfless people who only care about what is best for the Cleveland Browns,” the Haslams said.

Stefanski addressed getting the extension in typical stoic fashion, saying he and Berry won’t rest on their successes.

“It’s a partnership where we take our job seriously,” he said. “We understand the jobs we have in this town. We understand our fans and what they want this team to be. So, we’re just going to focus on working every waking minute to get this thing where we want it

“For the organization to trust Andrew and I speaks to what we’ve been able to do, but we have plenty of work to do.”

Berry has rebuilt Cleveland’s roster in his second stint with the team.

One of the NFL’s only Black GMs, the 36-year-old Berry returned to the Browns in 2020 after spending one season as Philadelphia’s vice president of football operations. He was Cleveland’s vice president of player personnel from 2016-18.

Although the Browns trade for Watson hasn’t paid off the way they hoped to this point, Berry has made several other astute moves to make Cleveland competitive and now a contender in the balanced AFC North.

Berry signed Myles Garrett, the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, to a long-term contract extension and locked up Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb, cornerback Denzel Ward, guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller and tight end David Njoku to multiyear deals.

He acquired wide receiver Amari Cooper in a trade with Dallas and fortified the roster with some solid draft picks, highlighted by linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, corner Martin Emerson Jr. and tackle Dawand Jones.

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