In the first week of the Kevin Stefanski era in Cleveland, a defensive coordinator decision for the 2020 season is as critical as any.
New Browns coach Kevin Stefanski has narrowed his choices for defensive coordinator to Steve Wilks, the Browns’ DC last season, and Joe Woods, the 49ers’ defensive backs/passing game coordinator. Feeling is, decision will come sooner than later.
— Jim Trotter (@JimTrotter_NFL) January 14, 2020
With Stefanski focusing on his offensive strategy this offseason, he needs an accountable and autonomous defensive coordinator.
Whichever direction he goes, a defense that finished well within the bottom half of the league in points and yards allowed in 2019 must improve.
Who is Joe Woods?
Woods is a Western Pennsylvania native that played defensive back at Illinois State in the early 1990s.
He spent 10 years in the college ranks coaching multiple defensive positions before joining the Tampa Bay staff in 2004.
In 2006, Woods joined the Minnesota Vikings organization to coach defensive backs.
For eight years, Woods and Stefanski coached alongside each other under head coaches Brad Childress and Leslie Frazier.
Woods left Minnesota in 2013 to coach defensive backs in Oakland in 2014, and Denver in 2015 and 2016.
Denver promoted him to defensive coordinator in 2017.
After the Broncos fired head coach Vance Joseph after the 2018 season, Woods joined the 49ers staff for 2019.
Woods’ coached impressive defenses in Denver, finishing 10th in points allowed and 12th in yards allowed in both the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
In 2019, the 49ers finished the season first in the league in passing yards allowed, thanks to Woods’ secondary.
49ers defensive backs coach Joe Woods is a finalist to become the Browns defensive coordinator. That would be a significant loss for San Francisco. https://t.co/tyFuT3aPLv
— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) January 15, 2020
A Fair Shake for Wilks?
Steve Wilks‘ career path is very similar to Joe Woods’.
Like Woods, Wilks spent 10 years coaching defense in the college ranks before coaching the Redskins secondary in 2005.
Wilks was the defensive coordinator for the Panthers in 2017 before taking the Arizona Cardinals head coaching job in 2018.
He was fired after one season and then hired on as Cleveland’s defensive coordinator in 2019.
The Browns finished 22nd in the league in yards and points allowed in 2019, showing little statistical improvement from 2018.
But Injuries marred Wilks’ defense at many positions, and the suspension of Myles Garrett at a critical point in the season was devastating.
Wilks didn’t make excuses and vouched for the effort that his squad put forth every game.
The Browns’ defense did not meet expectations this season, but there is a case for giving Wilks a second season under a new coaching regime.
According to a report from Cleveland.com, Wilks would have been Stefanski’s first choice as defensive coordinator had he been named head coach last year instead of Freddie Kitchens.
Although Wilks is not currently interviewing with other teams, a new crop of head coaches across the league may see him as a valuable addition to their staff.
Steve Wilks remains under contract with the Browns; if/when he’s released, he could be headed to D.C. with new coach Ron Rivera https://t.co/SYiqXS9fjK
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) December 31, 2019
If Stefanski retains Wilks, a substantial improvement of a defense laden with first-round draft picks and potential future NFL stars is expected.
Woods might be the more comfortable choice for Stefanski given their eight years together in Minnesota.
Woods did an impressive job in San Francisco, and he is considered one of the emerging defensive masterminds in the NFL.
His tutelage under legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin with Tampa Bay in 2004 and 2005 has perpetuated his career, and he’s succeeded at every stop along the way.
So there’s a case for starting with a clean slate as Stefanski begins populating his staff.
As always, optimism in Cleveland begins to percolate into the fanbase for another year as offseason positioning unfolds.
Let’s hope Stefanski’s choice for defensive coordinator is the right one.