When the Cleveland Browns made the move from Hue Jackson last season, most assumed that offensive coordinator Todd Haley would be taking his seat. A couple hours later when the Browns fired Haley uncertainty was the name of the game. Being a team in need of a coach isn’t always a favorable position to have yourself in. Do you wait for the hot coordinator throughout the playoffs? Or do you nab another guy early, while you still can? Is the right guy even going to be available? Too many questions, not enough answers.
But something pretty cool happened. The dreaded “Interim Coach” period to end last season actually worked. With Gregg Williams still leading the defense, Freddie Kitchens was left to his own devices to fix the offense. Coach Kitchens wasn’t much of a flashy name, but his results were as flashy as they come. The writing was on the wall too. If you remember back to the 2018 preseason Kitchens was given play-calling duties for the night against the Lions. The offense looked as together and cohesive that night as they had any game under Haley.
For a half of a season Browns fans finally saw real offense. The type that was only previously viewable watching an out of market game. The type that made me realize we might have a pretty good coach on our hands. I’ve contended for years that the next wave of good NFL coaches will be the ones that aren’t locked into their system. Offensive coaches have it even worse. Many college offenses aren’t anything close to what they will encounter in the NFL. Who will be able to put these young players in situations to succeed? Considering Coach Kitchens had just put on an absolute coaching clinic, he looked like a pretty good candidate.
The issue is that no matter how much sports is supposed to be a meritocracy, NFL coaching doesn’t exactly work that way. There is a bit of pecking order when it comes to coaching in the NFL. The same pool of guys take turns being Head Coach, and when it isn’t their turn they run to their friends for coordinator jobs. Coach Kitchens hasn’t quite earned that pedigree yet. He doesn’t really belong to a storied coaching tree. He just did a really good job when an opportunity fell in his lap.
But my fears of letting a great candidate go were squashed very quickly. The Browns uncharacteristically made a quick move and hired Coach Kitchens as the Head Coach. It seemed a little too easy. It made a little too much sense. It seemed like rewarding someone for a job well done. It didn’t seem like an NFL coaching search.
It hasn’t taken Coach Kitchens long to endear himself to Browns fans. His press conferences are dreams for t-shirt companies. His soundbites have quite literally made every color outside of orange and brown irrelevant. But a lot of coaches have won press conferences. Kitchens helped win actual games.
There will be a strange paradox with this year’s Training Camp. With Coach Kitchens in charge, there will be a significant amount of continuity within much of the offense. On the other hand, this will be the first camp under Kitchens, and we know that he prefers a tougher camp than the team had a year ago. However, the Browns are handing him even more offensive weapons than he had last season. Only blind pessimism at this point could make you think they can’t pick up where they left off.
For me, Coach Kitchens has done and said enough to make me feel good about the choice the Browns made. In the near future, I will expand on what those things are. I assure you it goes far beyond the t-shirt fodder. But in the meantime let’s enjoy the fact that the Browns have a coach fans can be excited for. Just don’t forget the fact that they found him hanging out in one of the smaller offices of their own building.