CLEVELAND (AP)Mike Priefer’s shining moment with the Browns came when he coached them to a memorable playoff win.
The rest of his four seasons were underwhelming.
Priefer was fired Tuesday following a 7-10 season, capping a tenure filled with inconsistency and too many breakdowns by his units.
The move came six weeks after coach Kevin Stefanski fired defensive coordinator Joe Woods shortly after a loss to Pittsburgh in the finale. Woods has since been hired as a coordinator with New Orleans.
Priefer spent three seasons on Stefanski’s staff and filled in for him when the first-year coach had COVID-19 and missed the Browns’ 48-37 AFC wild-card win over Pittsburgh in the 2020 season.
It was Cleveland’s first postseason win since 1994, and Priefer, a Cleveland native, relished the chance to lead the Browns.
However, the team’s issues on special teams throughout this past season led to his dismissal with one year left on his contract.
”I appreciate everything Prief has done for this team in his three seasons as my special teams coordinator, but I have decided to move in another direction in the best interest of our organization,” Stefanski said. ”I know this city will forever be grateful for the job he did as acting head coach in our AFC wild-card win and for all his contributions while leading the Browns special teams units for the last four seasons.”
The Browns have requested an interview with Colts special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone, who was a candidate for Indianapolis’ head coaching job. Even though he was passed over in favor of Shane Steichen, Ventrone remains under contract in Indianapolis.
Ventrone was a special teams star with the Browns from 2009-12 after playing with New England. He retired as a player after the 2014 season in San Francisco.
Priefer coached with Stefanski in Minnesota and was retained by him after the Browns fired coach Freddie Kitchens following the 2019 season.
Priefer’s dismissal creates another opening on Cleveland’s staff. Stefanski also must replace quarterbacks coach Drew Petzing, who left to become Arizona’s offensive coordinator. Also, defensive line coach Chris Kiffin moved on to Houston and defensive backs coach Jeff Howard took a position coaching linebackers for the Los Angeles Chargers.
Stefanski is bringing on former Miami Hurricanes safeties coach and current Utah State defensive coordinator Ephraim Banda to coach Cleveland’s safeties.
Cleveland’s special teams had issues all last season, beginning with punt returner Jakeem Grant suffering a knee injury in training camp.
The Browns’ return game had little impact though there was some improvement as the season progressed, with rookie Jerome Ford returning kickoffs and Donovan Peoples-Jones handling punts.
One of the biggest special teams gaffes under Priefer came in a Week 2 loss to the New York Jets. Cleveland’s inability to cover an onside kick helped the Jets overcome a two-touchdown deficit in the final 1:55 to win 31-30.
Also, rookie kicker Cade York’s struggles didn’t help Priefer’s case. The fourth-round draft pick missed several big kicks – including an extra point in the Jets loss – and had a few blocked because of low trajectory.
York finished 24 of 32 on field goals and 35 of 37 on PATs.
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