CLEVELAND (AP) — Mike Priefer has known for months that he would be Browns coach Kevin Stefanski’s replacement in the event of a positive COVID-19 test.
He never imagined it happening in the playoffs.
Cleveland’s special teams coordinator will handle Stefanski’s game-day duties on Sunday night in Pittsburgh when the Browns play in their first postseason game since 2003. Stefanski, who led the Browns to 11 wins and back to the playoffs, tested positive with the virus on Tuesday along with Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio and two more assistant coaches.
Priefer said Stefanski had drawn up a pandemic contingency plan in the spring, and this week the Browns are putting it into action.
But while Priefer will take on Stefanski’s role — and wear headphones he despises — he knows his role is just temporary.
“Make no mistake, this is Kevin’s team,” said Priefer, a Cleveland native. “He’s laid the foundation of a smart, tough, accountable, resilient team. and I’ll do whatever’s asked of me to help get the Browns a win on Sunday night. I do love this city. And our fans deserve our best effort, and that’s what we plan on giving them on Sunday.”
It’s been a challenging week to say the least for the Browns, who as of mid-day Thursday still didn’t know if or when they’d practice. Their building and training facility have been closed since Tuesday, limiting the team to Zoom meetings and text messages.
At this point, the NFL said the wild-card game will be played as scheduled despite the rash of COVID-19 cases in Cleveland.
This is the second time Priefer has been an acting head coach. He had to do it on late notice in 2016 for one game in Minnesota after Vikings coach Mike Zimmer had emergency eye surgery.
Priefer had less than 24 hours to get ready for that gig. He’s had more time to prepare this week, but it’s been anything but routine.
“It’s like every morning you wake up and say what else can you deal with?” he said. “Everything’s been different. But from the leadership with (GM) Andrew (Berry) and Kevin on down to the coaches and even the players, we’ve been so adapted and so flexible, we’ve been so resilient in fighting through every piece of adversity that we’ve had to deal with this year.
“We’ve done a great job with that thus far and we’re going to continue to do so.”