It's Official: Freddie Kitchens Will Coach Cleveland Browns
After three days of media reports that were neither confirmed nor challenged by the team, the Cleveland Browns made it official Saturday: Freddie Kitchens will be the team's new head coach.
“We are thrilled to announce Freddie Kitchens as the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns,” owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said in a press release. “He did an outstanding job in his role as coordinator, and we know that will continue as he steps into the role of head coach.
“Freddie demonstrated all of the qualities that you want in someone who is leading your organization. He has unquestioned leadership. He is a man of integrity. He fosters a collaborative environment. He gets the most out of his players and our players loved playing for him. We are happy to have him leading the Cleveland Browns going forward.”
Kitchens' Meteoric Rise With the Browns
The official announcement marks the culmination of a meteoric rise by the 44-year-old Alabama native. Kitchens joined the Browns' offensive staff before the 2018 season as running backs coach after more than a decade coaching various positions with the Arizona Cardinals.
Mid-way through the season, with the team again struggling, the Browns fired head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley because of what Haslam termed “internal discord.” Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was named interim head coach and Kitchens, who had never called plays at the professional level, became interim offensive coordinator.
The change paid dividends almost immediately. The Browns won five of eight games under Williams, and the offense, led by prize rookies Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb, turned from drab and often inept to entertaining and effective. With Williams and Kitchens at the helm, the Browns finished 7-8-1, the team's best record since 2007. They weren't eliminated from the playoffs until the next to last weekend of the season.
When the season ended, the Browns interviewed seven candidates for head coach, including Williams and Kitchens.
“We had a deliberate and thorough process and one thing became evident -- that Freddie is the best person to lead the Cleveland Browns,” General Manager John Dorsey said in the release. “We saw firsthand what Freddie is able to do. He showed that he is consistent on a day-in and day-out basis and that he is a true leader. He helped unify our players in a tough time. He raised the bar for our offense last year, and I have no doubt he is going to raise the bar for our entire team.”
Kitchens, who played quarterback at the University of Alabama, will be formally introduced Monday as the Browns ninth head coach since the rebirth of the franchise in 1999.
“It’s an honor to be named the head coach of the Cleveland Browns,” Kitchens said in the Browns release. “As I’ve said before, I think Cleveland and I get along pretty well. My family and I have really enjoyed our time with this organization and in this community over the last year. I’m grateful for the opportunity and responsibility Dee and Jimmy Haslam have granted me.”
Since word that Kitchens would lead the team began leaking last Wednesday, players and fans have reacted with enthusiasm.
Browns rookie linebacker Genard Avery took to Twitter to congratulate his new coach.
— Genard Avery (@AveryGenard) January 9, 2019
In a statement released by the Browns Saturday, quarterback Mayfield said, “It was great working with and learning from Freddie last year. He has such a creative mind.”
Standout wide receiver Jarvis Landry said, “I think this is the direction to go.We can build on all of the things we did well last year.”
At the time Jackson and Haley were fired, the Browns ranked 18th in the NFL in scoring touchdowns once reaching the opponents' 20 yard line, or “red zone.” The Browns finished sixth in red zone scoring under Kitchens, and Mayfield threw 19 of his NFL rookie record 27 touchdown passes with Kitchens calling the plays.
Kitchens often stressed a collaborative approach to the offensive game plan, taking suggestions from players and eliminating plays that Mayfield and others on offense didn’t like. He helped revive the careers of former first round picks Greg Robinson, an offensive tackle, and Breshad Perriman, a wide receiver, who had been considered busts by their previous teams.
Mayfield and running back Nick Chubb, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards despite not starting until the seventh game of the season, thrived under Kitchens and are candidates for offensive rookie of the year.
Taking a Risk on Kitchens
For all the apparent support from players and fans, the choice of Kitchens represents a risk for the Haslams and Dorsey. Kitchens has only called plays for eight games and before that, had no previous experience as a coordinator, let alone as a head coach.
When the coaching search began, many observers thought the Browns would try to keep Kitchens as their offensive coordinator but pair him with a more experienced head coach. They were widely expected to pursue either former Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy or longtime New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, a former Denver head coach, but neither received an interview.
The Browns did interview former Indianapolis and Detroit coach Jim Caldwell, along with former Miami interim coach Dan Campbell. Minnesota offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski emerged as surprise co-finalist with Kitchens.
New England defensive coordinator Brian Flores and Indianapolis defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, whose teams remain the playoffs, were also interviewed for Cleveland's top job.
But in the end, the Browns opted for Kitchens, who broke into the NFL coaching ranks in 2006, working as tight ends coach for the Dallas Cowboys under Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells.
In his statement Saturday, Kitchens sounded a note of optimism sure to resonate with long-suffering Browns fans. “Our goal,” he said, “is to work extremely hard to earn the right to raise that Lombardi Trophy for our fans and this city.”