When I heard the other day that Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski and New York Giants head coach Joe Judge were high school teammates back in the day at St. Joseph Prep School in Philadelphia, specifically 1996, I immediately thought that was the year my first child was born and I felt old. These two new rising coaching stars, however, will meet again Sunday night under the bright lights of New York City (actually New Jersey, but who cares), when the Browns and Giants do battle.
Both Stefanski and Judge were teammates for a year at St. Joe Prep on their freshman team, both vying for the quarterback position. Stefanski won the job and Judge transferred the following year for personal reasons and had a successful career at Lansdale Catholic High School outside Philly. Judge ended up going to Mississippi State and Stefanski ended up at Penn for his college career. Both former teammates then moved onto the NFL ranks as coaches. While Stefanski ended up moving onto the Minnesota Vikings in 2006 as an assistant coach, Judge eventually got an assistant coaching job with the New England Patriots by 2012.
Fast forward to a year ago as both coaches were hired this past January to their respective teams, neither was an exciting pick by either organization. Browns fans might remember that Stefanski was in the running a year ago for their coaching vacancy before the Browns front office went with Freddie Kitchens. We all know how that worked out. While Judge, when picked by the Giants, was a real surprise by many national sports reporters.
Now both coaches are in the limelight going into Sunday’s game and it should be a barn burner. Both coaches preach fundamentals and discipline. The Giants are sitting at 5-8 and still have a chance in the awful NFC East Division to win said division because the Washington Football Club is a game ahead at 6-7. The Browns sit at 9-4 after a tough loss to the Ravens this past Monday. They still have control over their own destiny for making the playoffs.
So we have high school teammates, who to this day still stay in touch with each other, competing against one another on the biggest stage in football. I always find it interesting how fate, oftentimes, intervenes in life and gives us opportunities. I’m sure when Stefanski was working as assistant quarterbacks coach with the Vikings and Judge was an assistant special teams coach with the Patriots years ago, neither would have imagined they’d be coaching against one another as head coaches on a big Sunday Night Football game! But now they are, in part, because of each other’s persistence to work their way up the coaching ladder.
So how will this game play out for both coaches?
My guess is that the Browns and Stefanski will use the running game and Browns backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt much more with carries. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield threw a career-high 47 passes and historically, the Browns have a better winning percentage when Mayfield throws far less.
Who will start for the Giants at quarterback still remains a question but former Browns quarterback Colt McCoy might get the nod for the Giants and coach Judge.
I had the opportunity to attend the Browns and Ravens game down at First Energy Stadium Monday night and what I kept waiting for while trying to stay warm was for the Browns defense to get a turnover or two. A lot of people this week are criticizing the Browns defense for giving up so many points again. But the Browns have given up a ton of points all season long. The difference for the Browns defense is creating turnovers. Stefanski, many times, shares this philosophy on a weekly basis at his press conferences. Look for the turnover margin to be the real indicator Sunday night on how successful the Browns are.
With a high school reunion of sorts happening Sunday for Stefanski and Judge it should be an entertaining and fun football game to watch. We all can recall fond and not so fond memories from our days in high school. I imagine for Stefanski and Judge, it’ll be another day of walking down memory lane, but they’ll also be laser-focused to help their respective team win another game.
Are you ready for some Sunday Night Football?