If you’ve followed me throughout this season, you know critiquing Cleveland Browns coach Freddie Kitchens is becoming a bit of a habit. Several of his losses have been the result of poor decision-making on his part, while a few of his wins felt as though they came in spite of him.
For as frequently as I’ve called Kitchens out, I’m also willing to admit evaluating the rookie coach is more difficult than anticipated. The reality is, when looking at his record and the Browns’ overall performance, he’s already accomplished much more than many of the coaches this team has seen since 1999.
Essentially, while Kitchens’ faults have been on display all season long, he’s still found a way to out-perform almost every rookie coach Cleveland has hired in the past two decades.
As you can see, fully evaluating his performance this year isn’t just complicated, it almost feels impossible.
I’m not the only one who needs to solve this puzzle. The Browns must be able to determine at season’s end if Kitchens is really the coach who can get this team over the hump.
At the moment, they have just as much evidence proving he should stay as they do showing he’s not the right hire.
With six wins on the year, Kitchens has already logged a more successful rookie season than five Browns coaches in the past 20 years. Should he win at least two of the remaining three games, he’ll have gotten off to a better start than Bill Belichick did when he was hired to coach the Browns.
Kitchens will finish this year with no worse than a .500 record against the AFC North.
He’s already doubled the win total of his predecessor, and done so in two fewer years.
Of his six victories this season, half have come against teams which would make the playoffs if the season ended today. This is something even Gregg Williams – someone a few Browns fans are still pining for – failed to do in last season’s successful stint as an interim coach.
With all that said, it seems foolish to even consider the possibility of Cleveland firing Kitchens at the end of the year.
However, it’s when you peer beneath the surface of the aforementioned accomplishments that you begin to question everything we’ve seen this season.
Honestly, when comparing what we saw from the Browns in Week 1 and how they looked in Week 14, is there anywhere the team is showing clear and significant progress?
They still fall victim of their own hubris, losing several games because they felt they were good enough to coast on talent alone.
Kitchens still struggles with in-game adjustments, as hot starts are often followed by Cleveland’s offense becoming stagnant.
He’s still good for at least a few head-scratching decisions per game, like barely running the ball in the first half of last Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals’ bottom-barrel rush defense.
Under Kitchens’ watch, the Browns remain undisciplined and unable to hold themselves accountable. Players have been suspended, skipped practices, violated uniform codes, sniped with the media and even made post-game death threats.
All in all, none of the warts this team displayed earlier in the year have disappeared, which is a clear indictment on coaching.
So, when determining if Kitchens deserves another season, it’s all about figuring out which is more important – the Browns’ on-field performance or their inability to overcome longstanding problems.
The final call may come down to just how much the front office expected from the team this year.
Despite the hype, GM John Dorsey spent more than a little time insisting this team was still growing, that expecting an automatic playoff berth was always lofty. With that context, you’d think Kitchens has earned another season.
However, has Dorsey also seen enough proof that Kitchens can resolve the issues plaguing this team all year? Is he confident his coach can use the offseason to iron all the wrinkles out and ensure Cleveland can make a big leap forward next season?
As you can see, we’ve gone through plenty of evidence helping each side of that argument. Kitchens’ record indicates real progress can be made with another season, but his continued inability to get the most out of his team forces you to wonder if another year will only cause more damage.
It’s up to the Browns to figure out the answer here. Unfortunately for them, they have enough reason to believe either call could be both completely correct or incredibly foolish.