Vikings stay in-house, tab Stefanski as offensive coordinator

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Minnesota's offense since coach Mike Zimmer was hired has frequently lacked the scoring punch to keep up with the rest of the league.

Coincidentally or not, continuity has been missing, too.

The Vikings announced Wednesday the appointment of Kevin Stefanski as their offensive coordinator, avoiding another offseason of transition under Zimmer while leaning on the longest-tenured member of the coaching staff to help unearth more production from quarterback Kirk Cousins.

"Kevin is a smart young coach with a bright future," Zimmer said in a statement distributed by the team. He added: "His work ethic and teaching ability have been obvious to me behind the scenes since I came here five years ago. He's well respected by coaches and players both, and I know he's up to the task."

Stefanski was promoted Dec. 11 as the interim replacement for John DeFilippo, who was fired in his first season on the job with the offense in a severe slump. Stefanski's contract expired Tuesday, and in the meantime he was a candidate to be Cleveland's head coach. The Browns, instead, picked their interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens .

The 36-year-old Stefanski, who joined the Vikings in 2006 as an assistant to coach Brad Childress, has coached tight ends, running backs and quarterbacks for the team. He'll be the fourth offensive coordinator in six seasons for Zimmer, following Norv Turner, Pat Shurmur and DeFilippo. Shurmur tried to hire Stefanski a year ago when he became head coach of the New York Giants, but Zimmer turned down the request.

PRO FOOTBALL

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The NFL abruptly dropped its plan Wednesday to challenge approved dementia diagnoses in a landmark concussion case as players' lawyers accuse it of trying to delay payments and rewrite the $1 billion settlement.

A federal court hearing set for Thursday on the NFL's appeal was canceled Wednesday afternoon as the league dropped its appeal. Instead, U.S. District Judge Anita Brody issued an order requiring doctors to explain their findings in certain cases.

The NFL had asked to challenge some diagnoses made by settlement-approved doctors and upheld by a court-appointed administrator whose decisions are supposed to be final. The league nonetheless filed an appeal on the grounds that the standards used to diagnose the ex-players with dementia were not being applied consistently.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

HOUSTON (AP) - Dabo Swinney won the Paul "Bear" Bryant Coach of the Year award for the third time in four years Wednesday night, two days after leading Clemson to its second national championship in three years.

Swinney is the only three-time winner of the 33rd annual award, with Chris Petersen - the trophy holder in 2006 and 2009 at Boise State - the only other multiple winner.

Swinney was among seven finalists named for the annual award given to the nation's top college football coach - along with Bill Clark (UAB), Brian Kelly (Notre Dame), Josh Heupel (UCF), Jeff Monken (Army), Nick Saban (Alabama), and Jeff Tedford (Fresno State).

PRO BASEBALL

NEW YORK (AP) - The New York Yankees host Baltimore and Washington is at home against the New York Mets on March 28, the first games of the earliest regular major league opening day.

The commissioner's office announced games times Wednesday for the schedule, which was released in August. The previous earliest regular start was March 30 in 2003, 2008 and 2014.

The season opens with a two-game series between Seattle and Oakland in Tokyo on March 20-21, MLB's fifth opener in Japan after 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012. MLB also has opened in Monterrey, Mexico (1999), San Juan, Puerto Rico (2001) and Sydney, Australia (2014).

All 30 teams are scheduled for opening day for the second straight year. Two games were postponed on opening day last season because of poor weather.

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