New Browns coach Kevin Stefanski could be reuniting with an old friend in Cleveland.
The team is interviewing Vikings assistant general manager George Paton for the second time to be their new GM, a person familiar with the meeting told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Paton, who met with the team over the weekend to discuss its opening, is at the team’s headquarters in Berea, Ohio, according to the person who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the team is not making its plans public during its search.
Paton worked in Minnesota for 13 years with Stefanski, who since being hired by Cleveland has been part of the search committee with owner Jimmy Haslam and others to hire a general manager. Stefanski was the Vikings’ offensive coordinator this season.
A Paton-Stefanksi connection could help the Browns have early alignment as they put the pieces together following a 6-10 season, which ended with the firing of coach Freddie Kitchens and GM John Dorsey leaving after declining an offer to take a lesser role in the organization.
The Browns seem to have zeroed in on Paton, who has come close to leaving the Vikings before and may be ready for a new challenge.
Paton is the only candidate they’ve met with twice. The team also interviewed Eagles vice president of football operations Andrew Berry and New England college scouting director Monti Ossenfort.
Paton has worked alongside Vikings GM Rick Spielman for most of his career. They were together in Chicago and Miami before joining the Vikings in 2007. During their 13 seasons together in Minnesota, Stefanski and Paton went to the playoffs six times and twice went to the NFC Championship.
Minnesota went 10-6 this season and earned a wild-card berth. The Vikings shocked favored New Orleans in the Superdome before losing to the San Francisco 49ers, who will play Kansas City in the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.
The Browns have a talented roster, built by Dorsey, but the team lacked chemistry and discipline this season, forcing Haslam to make yet another coaching change. Kitchens’ dismissal seemed inevitable when the team faded from playoff contention but Dorsey’s dismissal — the team framed it as a mutual parting — was a surprise.
Haslam made the alignment between his coach and front office a priority this offseason, and a potential pairing of Stefanski and Paton may allow the Browns to seamlessly move forward. In Cleveland, Paton would work closely with chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta, who has a bigger presence than ever with the Browns.
DePodesta’s contract is set to expire this month, but he said last week at Stefanski’s introductory news conference that he intends to remain with the Browns.