One of the biggest offseason mysteries has now been solved – the Cleveland Browns have their new head coach.
It was reported today the team plans to give the gig to Freddie Kitchens, who will have transitioned from Cleveland’s running backs coach to interim offensive coordinator to head coach in less than a calendar year. He’ll be tasked with keeping the Browns’ momentum going, as many expect them to be playoff-bound in 2019.
Some outside Cleveland may find this surprising. The Browns were suddenly a popular landing spot, and they chose to hire the guy who took over the offense midway through the previous season? They’d prefer Kitchens over candidates who had more experience (Mike McCarthy) or league-wide appeal (Josh McDaniels)?
When you break it down, though, it’s really not shocking whatsoever. If anything, Cleveland’s hiring of Kitchens was actually quite predictable.
That doesn’t make it wrong. In fact, the reasons you could see this move coming also help explain why it was a smart move in the first place.
As far back as the midseason firings of coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, it was clear Kitchens was popular within the Browns’ front office. How else can you explain his getting promoted to interim OC seemingly out of nowhere?
On top of this, the Browns clearly wanted their next head coach to be a great fit with franchise quarterback Baker Mayfield. So important was the opinion of their rookie QB in this search that they reportedly FaceTimed him in to the head coach interviews.
One need only look at the final eight weeks of the 2018 season to see how well Kitchens and Mayfield meshed, as the former’s influence helped the latter turn in a record-breaking season.
Baker Mayfield pre-Freddie Kitchens as his OC: 130-of-223 (56.5%), 1,471 yards, 8 TD, 6 INT.
Baker Mayfield with Freddie Kitchens as his OC: 180-of-263 (68.4%), 2,254 yards, 19 TD, 8 INT.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) January 9, 2019
Of course, this just helps explain why Kitchens was under consideration to begin with. It was the steps the Browns took when kicking off their coaching search which helped hammer home why his promotion was hardly a surprise.
For all intents and purposes, Cleveland went to great lengths to ensure it didn’t lose Kitchens to another team. Various franchises reportedly submitted requests to interview him for their respective openings. However, the Browns denied every single one.
This was done, we were told, to give whoever Cleveland decided to hire a chance to keep Kitchens as offensive coordinator. As many were quick to point out, rarely is a new coach aligned with not getting a say in his staff. Knowing this, it seemed strange for the Browns to continue clinging to Kitchens.
Based on some reports, a few candidates withdrew their names from consideration upon being told they didn’t have much of a choice in their offensive coordinator. Per Les Levine of 92.3 the Fan, word is McCarthy was a favorite among Cleveland’s front office, but pulled himself out of the running when the team told him it hoped he would keep Kitchens.
Despite this, the Browns just kept asking candidates if they’d want their in-house offensive coordinator on their staff. Word is finalist Kevin Stefanski was the last man they ended up proposing this to. Upon his turning it down, the Browns decided Kitchens was their guy.
As they should’ve. Honestly, even if he wasn’t seriously being considered as a potential head coach when this search kicked off, how could Cleveland’s front office go through all of this and not take a step back to think “well if we like him so much, why not just promote him”?
Again, the team went to great lengths to tell the world how much it valued Kitchens. It blocked any and all attempts other teams made to try and poach him, doing so out of some far-fetched hope the next hire would embrace having his OC picked for him. The front office was willing to handicap its search by tirelessly attempting to find a way to keep Kitchens with the organization.
Knowing this, how could you be thrown off by the idea of the Browns making him their next head coach?
Not only that, how could you be upset with the move in general?
Cleveland needed someone the entire organization was fully aligned with. Someone who was valued from the front office to the locker room. Someone who’s proven he can make an instant impact, one which could be noticed across the NFL.
Kitchens fits that bill. He always has. The Browns have been telling us that much for the past two weeks.