Freddie Kitchens went from a dark horse candidate to the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Now, that move is being called their riskiest of the offseason.
When head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley were fired in the middle of the 2018 season, the Cleveland Browns selected defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as the interim coach and running back coach Freddie Kitchens as the interim offensive coordinator.
Everyone knew who Williams was. The fiery defensive coach has been in the NFL for years and was quite the character on the HBO series ‘Hard Knocks’. As for Kitchens, most fans weren’t aware of who he was. What they did know was he had never called plays during a regular season game which meant the direction of the offense for the final eight games were a mystery.
Kitchens ended up proving to be the right choice as he tailored that offense around rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield. They improved across the board and finished 5-3 during the games where he and Williams were in charge.
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That strong finish earned both Williams and Kitchens an interview in the offseason for the full-time head coaching position. However, Kitchens felt like a dark horse at the time given his lack of experience.
Even being an underdog, Kitchens did enough in the interview to win the job. Fans loved the hire as did the players who worked with him in 2018. As for the media, there have been mixed reactions. With questions remaining as to how he will do now that he has control of the whole team, the hiring of Kitchens is being called the Browns riskiest move of the 2019 offseason by Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report.
Knox did say that Kitchens has familiarity with the team on his side — citing the relationship he has with Mayfield. From there, he described the obstacles that are in front of the first-year head coach.
"“What Kitchens doesn’t have is experience managing an entire roster—and the Browns now have one full of big personalities. In addition to Mayfield, Kitchens will be managing the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Sheldon Richardson and Duke Johnson Jr. If he cannot keep the ship on course, it could quickly turn south.” — Knox, Bleacher Report"
Even with the risk associated, the move to hire Kitchens was the right one. Too often, teams hire coaches simply because they have experience which doesn’t always work — especially when you have a roster such as the one Knox pointed to.
Bringing in a coach with a big ego may not mesh well with a locker room full of characters. Kitchens, on the other hand, has already shown an ability to work with several of the players who the team will rely on in 2019.
Most importantly, he has the respect of the quarterback. Mayfield has proven to be the vocal leader of this team and as long as he supports Kitchens, the rest of the team will as well.
So while there is some risk in hiring a rookie head coach, it’s really no different than if they were to bring in someone with more experience. Either way, there’s an unknown element. At least with their current head coach, they know he and the players can co-exist which is a huge plus for him and the team.