The Cleveland Browns will embark on the 2019 NFL season with a new head coach for the fourth time since Jimmy and Dee Haslam purchased the team in the fall of 2012.
The season will also mark the first time that Freddie Kitchens has been a head coach at any level, which leads to a bit of uncertainty about what to expect from him. Kitchens made a smooth transition from running backs coach to offensive coordinator midway through last season, but the move up to head coach is an even larger step to take.
What Kitchens has going for him is familiarity with the franchise. He formed an obvious bond with the roster—and specifically with quarterback Baker Mayfield—after taking over as play-caller in the wake of Hue Jackson’s firing.
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.
In many ways, the hiring of Kitchens was even bolder, and riskier, than Cincinnati’s hiring of (Zac) Taylor. In less than one calendar year, Kitchens has been promoted twice, going from running backs coach to being the man in charge of perhaps the NFL’s hottest franchise.
Knox is not entirely off base with his questions about Kitchens, but there is risk in any head coach hiring, especially if they are taking on the position for the first time. (Of course, an argument could be made that there are considerable risks in hiring someone with previous experience, as the Browns learned with Hue Jackson and Eric Mangini.)
And if we are pondering the riskiest moves made by the Browns, creating a major hole at right guard with the trade of Kevin Zeitler, not addressing the serious lack of depth along the defensive line, and signing running back Kareem Hunt would easily rank above the hiring of Kitchens as head coach.
It is not as if Kitchens just wandered into team headquarters one day and was handed the job by general manager John Dorsey. Kitchens has spent 13 years in the NFL as an assistant coach and worked with the likes of Bill Parcells and Bruce Arians, so he should have a good handle on how things work.
There are some legitimate items for Browns fans to put on their worry list for the coming season, but Kitchens as head coach should not be near the top.