Those dirty, dastardly Vikings, led by that underhanded head coach Mike Zimmer. They blocked the attempt of the New York Giants (and their recently installed head coach Pat Shurmur) to talk to Vikings quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski about a possible offensive coordinator job in the Big Apple. How dare they? That is so cruel. Stefanski can’t get the promotion he wanted after the Vikings passed over him for the same promotion? That is so wrong . . . until you focus on one big fact: Stefanski is under contract with the Vikings for another year.
So, boo hoo hoo.
Okay, I am all for “right to work.” I certainly support a person’s ability to find a new and better job and be able to leave their current organization he is with to do so. It happens in all walks of life, and I think that is what free agency is about. (I even would defend to the ends of the earth the concept of free speech—witness what the current president is trying to do to it in this country—so, I hope Shurmur and Stefanski are still able to talk about the weather in New York, what’s up with the family and other things. But I digress.) However, when a person signs a work contract, I think the employer has as much right to enforce the fulfillment of that contract as the employee does to demand their employer lives up to it.
People sign these contracts to get some assurances from their employer that they will have a job for a certain number of years, and when it runs out, they try to work out a new one. Both sides at that time have the opportunity to renegotiate or move on from each other. Along the way, each side also has the right to terminate that contract due to cause, although that kind of thing might involve the court system. But terminating it for cause isn’t the case here.
It is not about leaving a bad organization, or punishing a bad employee (or even punishing a good one). Instead, Stefanski, who has been with the organization since Brad Childress brought him in 12 years ago, would, presumably, be looking for a new job as an offensive coordinator in New York—a promotion with more responsibility and likely more money—and another leg up the ladder to a head coaching job.
Now, Stefanski has served the Vikings loyally during his tenure, and he has likely been served well by the Vikings organization during that time. He was reportedly considered and interviewed for the Vikings’ offensive coordinator (OC) position, despite the fact that before Shurmur even left, Stefanski told Mark Craig of the Star Tribune a month and a half ago that being a potential OC candidate wasn’t necessarily top of mind at that time.
“That’s not something I’m even thinking about,” Stefanski told the Star Tribune. “One thing I’ve learned in this business is if you keep your head down and work as hard as you possibly can, good things usually happen.”
Well, he might have re-thought that statement since then. The Vikings, you could say, are not letting Stefanski pursue his dreams of ascension in the NFL coaching ranks. He has performed well with Minnesota—well enough to be considered for the Vikings’ OC job (that was filled with John DeFilippo last week), yet now he must remain as quarterbacks coach with the team that gave him a minor position on the staff at age 23 and helped mold him into a potential offensive coordinator (one step from away from head coach) at age 35. It could be viewed as a raw deal, and there are those who are saying it:
“The Vikings’ decision to block Stefanski from joining Shurmur means the team clearly thinks highly of him,” Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN wrote. “Nonetheless, if the Vikings were going to tell Stefanski they didn’t think he was good enough to be their coordinator, it is a slap to now make him stick around in a lesser position.”
But if you look at it from a Vikings perspective, it might look a little differently:
- Stefanski signed a contract—he should, if the employer wants him to, be expected to live up to it.
- The Vikings feel good enough about Stefanski that they want him to remain in their organization—but it could be a matter of them seeing DeFilippo as readier for the job since he had been an OC in the past, and Stefanski has not.
- Shurmur just left the Vikings (having one of their best seasons on record) after just one year in the position. Should the team be expected to gut their offensive coaching ranks to further help out Shurmur—now an NFC competitor—by depleting their own team?
- Perhaps the Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling has it right that DeFilippo, who has already been on other teams’ radar as a future head coach (both Chicago and Arizona reportedly interviewed him), may not be around after next season, and there would be an opening at OC for Stefanski.
If so, why would you let Stefanski go? He is your employee, he is under contract and you want to groom him to become your next OC. If DeFilippo (who has a two-year contract) does indeed leave to be a head coach soon, and I think Goessling makes a good case for it, I would do the same thing the Vikings did.
Although, I would give Stefanski assurances (in terms of more money, responsibility and maybe even a title change—such as assistant OC/quarterbacks coach) and then have him spend as much time as possible in 2018 learning everything they want him to about the offensive coordinator position. I would tell him, “this departure is what we see happening at some point, and this promotion is what we see for you.” Perhaps they already have.
At the very least, the Vikings should do that to mitigate hard feelings and an awkward situation this season and motivate Stefanski by showing him how they are grooming him to become an OC—here or elsewhere—next season. Because when that contract is up, if the Vikings don’t have Stefanski locked up, he will be gone.
By all accounts, Stefanski is a very intelligent and talented young coach. By all other accounts, Shurmur was a big reason for the improvements on the Vikings offense this season and he is now gone. Does success by the Vikings therefore dictate that you must then lose two major ingredients of that success next season, even if you have signed contracts saying that you legally don’t have to do so? We always hear talk about “the protection for players when it comes to dealings with their team” (I think there is a looming discussion regarding the contract tolling of a Vikings quarterback’s where you may hear that kind of talk), but were then are the protections for the team? I believe they are in the contracts that both sides willingly sign.
I am aware that teams can break a player’s contract when they see fit—for cause—and that doesn’t always seem fair. But I believe this is not a case for cause. I believe this is a case where both sides are living up to their side of the bargain.
But in this case, perhaps, one side exceeded expectations. And if that is the case, I do believe the Vikings should take a further step in rewarding that performance. They shouldn’t just stick to their contract, rather reach into the coffers to show Stefanski exactly what they think of him and let him know what is coming his way. That way, Stefanski has a better, more informed hand in building his future as the next Vikings offensive coordinator—if that is what the Vikings are planning.
DeFilippo said he is going to have as much to say the team will let him about who the next starting quarterback is going to be for the Vikings. I would offer that you better have the current quarterbacks coach, Kevin Stefanski, just as heavily involved in that discussion.