Browns looking to hire Bubba Ventrone as special teams coordinator after firing Priefer

Feb. 21—A couple of days after firing Joe Woods as defensive coordinator on Jan. 8, Kevin Stefanski said there might be "a few other changes" to his staff of assistant coaches, but that there would be no more "major" moves.

As Browns head coach, Stefanski reserved the prerogative to change his mind, and on Feb. 21 he exercised that prerogative by firing special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.

On the heels of Priefer being fired came news the Browns asked the Colts permission to interview Bubba Ventrone, special teams coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts, for the same position in Cleveland, according to Tom Peliserro of NFL Network.

The Colts hired Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen as their new head coach two days after Philadelphia lost Super Bowl LVII to the Chiefs. Steichen has been busy in recent days filling out his coaching staff.

Perhaps the Browns would not have fired Priefer if they weren't confident they could pry Ventrone away from Indianapolis. Ventrone, who played for the Browns from 2009-12, has been the Colts' special teams coordinator since 2018 when former Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich hired him. Reich, now head coach of the Carolina Panthers, was fired as Colts head coach midway through 2022.

Priefer, the Browns' special teams coordinator under Freddie Kitchens in 2019, was canned more than six weeks after the 2022 season ended.

Woods could sense his days with the Browns were numbered as the season was winding down (he has since been hired to be the Saints defensive coordinator), but Priefer thought his job was safe.

"No. I love it here," he said on Jan. 5 when asked if he discussed his job security with Stefanski. "I'm under contract. I don't plan on going anywhere else. I'm from Cleveland. I want to help Cleveland win a world championship. That's why I'm here, and that's my focus."

Errors on special teams plagued the Browns in 2022, especially in the first half of the season.

Three of rookie kicker Cade York's field goal attempts were blocked. Priefer said the protection on the blocks was "outstanding" and blamed York for kicking the ball too low.

York was 24 of 32 on field goal tries. His eight misses led the league. He missed a PAT attempt that would have given the Browns a 31-17 lead over the Jets with 1:55 remaining in the second game of the season. Compounding the problem was the Browns' failure to recover an onside kick after the Jets scored a touchdown to trim the Browns lead to 30-24. The Browns lost the game, 31-30.

Problems diminished as the season progressed, but not enough to save Priefer. The Browns finished last in punt coverage by allowing an average of 12.3 yards a return.

"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 in a statement. "I know this city will forever be grateful for the job he did as acting head coach in our AFC Wildcard win and for all his contributions while leading the Browns special teams units for the last four seasons. We wish Prief the best with his next opportunity."

Stefanski was diagnosed with COVID-19 before the Browns and Steelers played a wild-card in Pittsburgh on Jan. 10, 2021. Priefer was named acting head coach. The Browns won, 48-37.