Most people might struggle with it, but for Ed Stefanski, altering his career path completely is a skill he’s practically mastered.
Ed Stefanski played for Penn men’s basketball from 1973 to 1976 in a mostly supplemental role under legendary coaches Rollie Massimino and Chuck Daly. After his Quaker career ended, Stefanski transitioned into mortgage banking while still color commentating Big 5 and Atlantic 10 basketball telecasts and coaching his high school alma mater, Monsignor Bonner High School.
In 1999, Stefanski fully invested his professional life into basketball, accepting a scouting job with the New Jersey Nets. He has since ascended to the role he holds today, Senior Advisor of Basketball Operations with the Detroit Pistons.
In 1973, Stefanski was a standout player on the freshman team under Massimino. In 1974, he only averaged 2.7 points per game and lost his starting role, but he still led the team in assists by a decent margin.
“Ed has the ability to penetrate,” Chuck Daly once said. “He can see down the floor well on a break, and he finds holes in the defense to go to. He’s a big part of our offense.”
Stefanski was a part of several winning Quaker teams, as both the 1974 and 1975 squads won the Ivy League Championship. Despite his lessened role, the value that he gained from his time on the bench was vital to his future growth.
“By the time I was a senior, I had the best seat in the house,” Stefanski said in 2008. “I sat right next to [Coach] Chuck Daly at the Palestra for every game. I learned a lot sitting on the bench, and, with great luck, it has led me to a perfect place.”
After his college career, Stefanski was drafted by his hometown Philadelphia 76ers in the 10th round of the NBA draft. Although Stefanski didn’t see any playing time in the NBA, he would later go on to work for the 76ers at an executive level.
After college, Stefanski was left with the option to either become a coach or use his Wharton degree to enter mortgage banking. He ended up choosing the latter.
“I always thought I would be a coach, but my Wharton friends said, ‘Go for the money,’” Stefanski said in 2008. “Funny thing is, the people at the mortgage company liked to hire ex-jocks, because they were competitive and knew discipline. For a good long time, it was the job for me. We did quite well.”
The success he refers to led him to become the president of Preferred Mortgage Corporation, one of the most successful real estate funding mortgage companies in the United States. Although his business standing was quite high, Stefanski didn’t let go of basketball completely.
At his high school alma mater, Monsignor Bonner, he became the head basketball coach from 1979 to 1983, winning the Philadelphia Catholic League his final year. On top of coaching, Stefanski had a 20-year run as a color analyst beginning in 1979, which included the Big Five and the Atlantic 10 on ESPN.
After balancing the mortgage banking industry and basketball for over twenty years, Stefanski's friend John Nash, the general manager for the New Jersey Nets, approached him with an offer to scout college prospects for the team. Stefanski was left with the decision of whether to go all-in on basketball and risk a significant pay cut, or to continue in the industry he was already thriving in.
“I was 44, but I thought, if I didn’t do it now, when would it happen?” he said in 2008.
Stefanski accepted the job, and with it, his career path shifted dramatically. With the Nets, he helped build the teams that would compete in the NBA Finals in both 2002 and 2003. He was promoted by team president Rod Thorn to the director of scouting role, and in 2004, was made general manager of the team after Nash's departure.
In the first year of his stint as Nets general manager, Stefanski made a big splash by trading for superstar Vince Carter. He was then able to leverage his success into a job with his hometown Philadelphia 76ers, where he assumed the same role as general manager.
“I am very happy for Ed,” Thorn said at the time. “I hate to lose him and he did a great job for us. There is no question that he knows all parts of the game and the business and is bound to do good things for the 76ers.”
Stefanski stayed with the 76ers for four seasons before getting promoted to an Executive Vice President role with the Toronto Raptors and later the Memphis Grizzlies. After those stints, he became the Senior Advisor of Basketball Operations for the Detroit Pistons in 2018, which is the position he holds today.
Upon reflection of his decision to pivot his professional career completely into basketball, Stefanski is confident with the choice.
“It was the best move, obviously, I ever made,” he said in 2008. “It isn’t even a job, almost, but a passion. Sometimes I can’t believe I am in the NBA.”
Despite his ample success, what many casual sports fans might know him by best is his son Kevin, who recently rose through the NFL coaching ranks to become the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, and who also attended Penn like his father. Just last season, he led the Browns, who hadn’t been to the postseason in 18 years, to the NFL playoffs, where they knocked off the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card Round.