STC Mike Priefer (1.7.21)

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer:

Opening statement: 

“I just want to start off by saying that obviously our first priority is the health and safety of our players, our coaches and everyone in the organization and their families. My thoughts and prayers are with (Head Coach) Kevin (Stefanski) and all of our players and coaches who have tested positive for this virus.

 

“I am both honored and humbled to have this opportunity, but make no mistake, this is Kevin’s team. He has laid the foundation of a smart, tough, accountable, resilient team, and I will do whatever is asked of me to help the Cleveland Browns get a win on Sunday night. I do love this city – I think you guys know that – and our fans deserve our best effort. That is what we plan on giving them on Sunday.”

 

On what his approach will be this week and on Sunday night: 

“The approach this week, week nothing changes special teams-wise. We have been doing the meetings, and hopefully, we will get in the building at some point and get some work done on the practice field. That part hasn’t changed. The only thing that is different is that I have taken on more of game-management type stuff. I have met with our game-management type coaches that do a great job. (Director of Research & Strategy) Dave (Giuliani), (coaching assistant) Ryan (Cordell) and Coach Stefanski and I have been in contact, and I will continue to be in contact with him throughout the week, going over certain situations that will normally come up obviously in the course of a football game. That is really the only big difference for me getting ready for Sunday.”

 

On if he will try to ‘channel Stefanski’ in decision making situations during the game or if he will ‘be his own guy’: 

“Everybody is different, but I am going try to be an extension of Kevin. He has done a great job with situational football. He and I – obviously, you guys know my background with him – we have learned a lot of football over the years together and we have talked situational football throughout the year. We have talked about it during the week. Even on gameday, we talk situational football. Being in the position I am in on special teams, I understand situational football, and I am kind of into that mode anyway on gameday. That part will not change, but I am going to try to do exactly what Kevin would want to have happen in those situations.”

 

On how difficult challenges have been to manage this week with changes related to COVID-19 protocols: 

“It is like every morning you wake up and say, ‘What else can you deal with?’ Everything has been different. From the leadership with (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager) Andrew (Berry) and Kevin on down to the coaches and even our players, we have been so adaptive, we have been so flexible and we have been so resilient and just fighting through every piece of adversity that we have had to deal with this year. I think we have done a great job with that thus far, and we are going to continue to do so.”

 

On if the team will be able to practice today: 

“We are not sure yet.”

 

On how difficult it is to not have normal practice time before a playoff game: 

“We have talked with our players about that this morning. I had a special teams meeting, and I talked with our specialists about it. We have a lot of reps under our belt. We have a lot of practice reps and we have a lot of game reps, and that is what we have to rely on, we have to fall back on that experience and then know the mental part of it, know the schemes, know what we have to do, rely on our fundamentals and techniques and go out and play fast and physical.”

 

On how serving as an interim head coach for a game with the Vikings helps him heading into this game: 

“The first time it happened, (Vikings Head) Coach (Mike) Zimmer had emergency eye surgery the day before the game so I did not know until after the mass on Wednesday night – it was a Thursday night game. (Vikings General Manager) Rick Spielman, our general manager in Minnesota, he grabbed me right after that meeting and said, ‘Oh by the way, you are going be the head coach tomorrow night. Do you want to do it?’ I said ‘Absolutely.’ I did not have much time to think about it. This time, there was a little bit more time to think about it, but I was not caught off guard by anything. The thing that I knew and the thing that I learned the most is that you have to have good people around you, and we do have good people around. We have (offensive coordinator) Alex (Van Pelt) will do a great job running the offense, (defensive coordinator) Joe will continue to do a great job running the defense and all our coaches will step up and our players will step up as they normally do, as they have done all season long.”

 

On if he will make situational decisions during a timeout when consulting with staff members in the booth or if the staff members in the booth will make the call: 

“That will be my decision.”

 

On the cutoff point on Sunday when Stefanski will not be allowed to contract players or coaches: 

“That is the one detail I have not been told. Sorry, I can’t help you there.”

 

On if he will deliver the final pregame speech to the team in the locker room before the team takes the field: 

“I am probably doing that. I will keep it short and sweet, I promise (laughter).”

 

On how unsettling it is for Browns players to not have Stefanski on the practice field this week and at the stadium on gameday: 

“Because of how Kevin has set this whole thing up and he is such a humble guy to begin with and it has never been about him, it has always been about the team, and that is the way I plan on leading on Sunday. It is not about me. It is not about really any one person. It is about the Cleveland Browns. It is about our team. It is about how we have been built, how we have practiced, met and played all season long. I think we are going to fall back on that foundation and that experience, and I do not think the guys will be unsettled at all to be honest with you.”

 

On if any additional Browns players are expected to return from the reserve/COVID-19 list today: 

“I do not know about that yet.”

 

On if he has learned if there were potentially additional positive COVID-19 results today: 

“I have not received word. Kevin is still handling all of the head coaching duties. I do not want to deal with that stuff (laughter). He is doing a great job. He is still doing the head coaching stuff, and he will continue to do so up until kickoff, I am sure.”

 

On how long he has known about the contingency plan that he would be the interim head coach if Stefanski was unavailable: 

“Kevin let the staff know either back in the spring or before training camp started. I can’t remember when, but it was long before the season started. These guys have a plan. Andrew and Kevin, they plan out pretty much everything.”

 

On his confidence in Van Pelt taking over the offensive play-calling duties: 

“100 percent confidence.  Alex is a great football coach. He will do a great job.”

 

On if he or anyone has addressed with the team during meetings what happened at the Capitol yesterday: 

“I do not believe that is my job. Obviously, I am keeping track of the events in our country and want people to be peaceful and all of that sort of thing, but I do not think this is the time or the place to talk about it. I think if it needs to be addressed with the team, Kevin will do that.”

 

On if assistant special teams coach Doug Colman will take on more special teams responsibility on gameday or if he will continue to run the unit as normal: 

“I plan on handling special teams like I normally do, but Doug does a great job. He communicates well with the players. He and I look at the pictures and then we make adjustments. He will be doing more of that on his own, I would think because I have to stay closer to the action, but because I normally stay closer to the action based on the ebb and flow of the football game in the first place, he will continue to do what he does and he will do a great job, and whatever communication has to be done with the players, he will do more of that. I would think he would handle more of that than he would a normal gameday, but I am still going to make the calls and I am still going to do what I normally do on gameday.”

 

On factors that helped propel the Browns to the playoffs: 

“From a leadership standpoint from our general manager and head coach to our staff who has got a bunch of guys that work hard that are humble that do not mind giving other people credit to our players who have stepped up time and time again when they needed to and when we have lost a guy to injury or to COVID, the next man comes out and he is well prepared. It is an exciting team in that regard. We have a bunch of good people and we have a bunch of good young men who have played hard for us all year. When you have a team like that and we have weathered a bunch of storms and we have won a bunch of football games, I think it is an exciting time for our city and it is an exciting time for our organization.”

 

On Browns players’ attitude while facing adversity this week: 

“If you guys would have been in the locker room after the win on Sunday afternoon, these guys were excited. They are extremely prepared and extremely excited about this opportunity. We have had a next man up mentality all season long, and that applies to the head coach, to coordinators, to other coaches on the staff and to every player on our football team. We plan on giving our best effort on Sunday night play after play after play, playing physical, playing fast, winning the turnover battle and doing the things that have helped us win games all year long. That is not going to change.”

 

On how tough it will be juggling coaching duties among the entire staff this week and on gameday: 

“Like we had a contingency plan for if Kevin went down, we have contingency plans for when other coaches go down, as well. It is amazing, this staff they just keep doing things that you never thought we would have to do this. It has been a crazy time, but because we have had this plan since Day 1, we are just executing that plan. Those contingency plans have been there and they have been in place for a while, and now, they are just putting them to work.”

 

On the most significant challenge on gameday when he served as interim head coach with the Vikings: 

“The headphones because I do not like wearing headphones (laughter). That was 2016, I believe. I had not worn them since I coached in college at Northern Illinois. I do not like wearing them. I think the players in Minnesota were making fun of me for how I was taking them off, putting them and adjusting them for the first 10 minutes of the game, trying to figure out the most comfortable way to wear them. In all seriousness, I do not recall it being a huge challenge. I think you just go out, take on those duties and do it to the best of your ability and have players show up. That night, our players played their tails off and our coaches coached their tail off, and we lost a tough game to 10-1 football team. It was a great experience. Hopefully, we will go out and play the way Kevin would want us to play on Sunday night.”

 

On if Stefanski has been as involved as he would be in any other week of preparation: 

“Absolutely. Same thing.”

 

On if it is a bit surreal that he will be coaching the Browns in their first playoff game in 18 years: 

“I feel awful for Kevin, I feel awful for Joel and I feel awful for the other players who are not going be involved and the other coaches who are not going be involved because this means something to everybody. We are kind of a big family, coaches and players and the organization. When you do not have everybody there, I feel for those guys and especially Kevin being a first-year head coach. I know he does not want it to be about him, but a lot of it is about him and what he is accomplished and what we have accomplished together. Is it surreal? I guess. I have not really thought about that part of it because there is a lot of work to be done, but maybe someday we will look back and think about it that way. Right now, it is business as usual, and we have to go get a win.”

 

On how much of the situational gameday decisions like going for it on fourth down are decided ahead of the game: 

“A lot of that is planned out prior to, but on gameday obviously every situation is a little bit different. I think where the gray area comes in, that is where the head coach has to make those decisions.”

 

On if he is typically involved in the game-management meetings during the week related to situational football: 

“We have game management meetings every week. Yes, sir.”

 

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