Stefanski: ‘We’ve got to find a way’ despite COVID-19 issues

CLEVELAND (AP) — Browns coach Kevin Stefanski doesn’t know how he contracted COVID-19, and he’s not going to let the virus stop him from preparing his team for the playoffs.

Beating the Pittsburgh Steelers is priority No. 1.

“We’ve got to find a way,” Stefanski said.

Cleveland’s first-year coach, who has guided the Browns back to the postseason for the first time since the 2002 season, met with reporters over Zoom on Wednesday, a day after his positive test for COVID-19.

Stefanski won’t be able to coach the Browns on Sunday, and the team will also be without Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio and at least two other assistant coaches. Cleveland has nine rotational players and five coaches currently on the COVID-19 list, but some may be back in time for the game.

Not Stefanski, who can only work virtually with his team this week.

The 38-year-old said he feels fine and said that his young family is also healthy. Stefanski expressed disappointment and frustration that he won’t be able to join his team at Heinz Field on Sunday night for the wild-card game.

But Stefanski, who has juggled distractions attached with the pandemic for months, remained confident the Browns will be ready.

“Disappointing for any of the guys that can’t be involved in this,” he said. “We had a team meeting yesterday just to reassure them that we’ve got a job to do. We’ll make sure we keep everybody is safe first and foremost and then we’ll get back to work and put a plan together to go on the road against a really good football team.

“Really pretty simple.”

The Browns did not have any new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, but the team’s training facility in Berea, Ohio, remains closed as contact tracing continues.

So instead of practicing on the field for the Steelers, the Browns are holding a virtual walk-through — not ideal, but not too different in this unique season.

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who previously worked with Stefanski in Minnesota, will serve as Cleveland’s acting head coach. Stefanski said Priefer was an easy choice.

“With Coach Priefer, it always makes sense, the special teams coordinator deals with everybody on the team, coaches every player,” he said. “So I think it’s a very natural place to go in an interim setting there where he can not miss a beat, and then you let the offensive and defensive coaches focus on their side of the ball.

“So, ton of confidence in Coach Priefer, he knows this team very, very well from a roster standpoint, also based on how we play. So I have a full amount of confidence in him.”