Monday, January 14, 2019

Kitchens era begins impressively 

(Freddie) Kitchens is not nearly ready to become a head coach. He’s just getting his feet wet as a coordinator. As he continues to grow in that area, though, a future head-coaching job should come into focus. Rich’s Rants, Jan. 2, 2019

The future is now for Freddie Kitchens, who met the Cleveland media Monday at noon for the first time in his new job as head coach of the Browns.

The glib Alabaman, who delighted his audience with a mixture of football philosophy and refreshing down-home humor throughout the news conference, showed why he was the surprising winner in the race for the job.

He is remarkably candid. If it is on his mind, it is on his tongue. He held nothing back, seemingly enjoying the give-and-take with members of the fourth estate. From talking about his popularity in Cleveland to how he wound up in this position to numerous nods to his support staff, Kitchens commanded the room.

“I know I’m not the people’s choice,” he said. “I don’t care. I’m not a finished product and I never will be. . . . I think I’m popular in Cleveland because we won some games.”

He displayed genuineness, all in a relaxed and friendly sort of way that is engaging at first. It did not take long to see why this good ol’ boy will relate in a big way with the core of this franchise, the blue-collar worker. He is one of them.

His supreme self-confidence leaked through when he boasted, “I believe they made the best decision.” Referencing this franchise has experienced more downs than ups throughout the years, he declared, “That ends today.” Another example: “If you don’t wear orange and brown, you don’t matter.”

Now if that doesn’t resonate with this fan base, nothing will. That base has heard similar words from previous head coaching hires, but the sincerity with which this one was delivered and the determined look on his face when he said them suggested this one will produce substantially better results.

Kitchens comes off as a genuinely nice guy, the kind of guy you’d enjoy having a beer with as well as talking football and life itself. The kind of guy you know you can count on and trust no matter the situation. All are ingredients that should serve him well in his new capacity.

Head coaching is a whole different animal. He no longer will speak to a small room of running backs or quarterbacks or tight ends, assistant coaching positions he has held throughout his career. Now, he will have the undivided attention of a room full of 53 football players. “All I ask is they trust me,” he said.

For the first time in since can’t remember when, there will be a palatable connection between a Cleveland Browns head coach and the crazy, zealous fandom that has endured 20 seasons of misery with their National Football League team.

Kitchens is, in so many ways, one of them. He showed up at the news conference in a brown suit, bright orange tie and, yep, a Browns cap. He probably would have felt more comfortable in an orange hoodie.

He lived and died with University of Alabama football during the week growing up, but on Sundays, he was a Browns fan. “On Sundays, you had to something other than go to church,” he said. “I liked their colors and simplicity of the helmets. Hope that doesn’t change.”

He appeared to grasp and understand the enormity of what has transpired in such a short period of time and is self effacing enough to realize he was not the most popular choice. He didn’t seem to care.

 “I know I’m not a finished product,” he said, “and I never will be.” He admitted he has “been running fast my whole life.” He’s always trying to stay one step ahead.

Okay but is he ready to make the big jump from career assistant coach to head coach in the NFL? “Am I ready?” he repeated the question. “I don’t know. Were you ready to be a parent?” There is only way to find out and General Manager John Dorsey has put him in that position.

A gamble of sorts? Perhaps. A gut feeling? Maybe, but it was made with the knowledge that Kitchens, 44, is the kind of coach who relates well to players, a quality important to the GM.

It has reached the point where Dorsey has earned the trust. I didn’t like his choice of Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick in the last college football draft and that has sort of worked out well.

I guess he has earned further respect in this unexpected move. The only difference is the Mayfield pick was position oriented; Kitchens’ selection is much more team oriented.

Now that fans have had as chance to see Kitchens, it will be interesting to see how many of those fans who jumped off the bandwagon down through the years will be inspired to jump back on.

The guess here is he will be ether most popular head coach this franchise has had since the Sam Rutigliano-Marty Schottenheimer decade that last produced winning football.

Too many times, hopes have been raised with new faces in the front office and on the field only to be sadly let down. With Dorsey in charge in the front office and Kitchens down on the field, that has changed.

Dorsey, who admitted Kitchens was not on his original list of candidates for the vacancy, is molding a solid football team. The core is increasing exponentially and the club is on track, from a talent standpoint, to make the 2019 season the most interesting and productive since the franchise returned to the NFL in 1999.

With that in mind, the new coach said he has only one goal. “Hoisting the Lombardi Trophy,” he said, labeling the club’s remarkable comeback season when they finished 7-8-1 “not acceptable.”

Yeah, but don’t they all say that? It’s nothing more than lip service, right? Sure it fires up the fans. When was the last time Browns Nation could honestly and truly believe the Browns were good enough to be mentioned in the same sentence as the Lombardi Trophy?

Kitchens is stepping into a position now that is unlike any he has ever encountered. He is entering an entirely different world. There is so much more responsibility in that world.

He will have to put out fires, manage games while calling plays for the offense at the same time (not easy to do for head coaching rookie) and generally be the conscience for the team.

Kitchens’ hardscrabble life as an assistant coach has paid off. He has reached the pinnacle of coaching. His main job now will be to remove the incompetence and dysfunction this has enveloped this franchise for way too many years.

“I’m just going to do my job,” he said. “I always was under the assumption that if you do your job, you’ll be recognized.” A philosophy that has paid off handsomely.

If his introduction to Browns Nation Monday is indicative of what lies immediately ahead, the years of abject misery and frustration for what used to be one of the proud franchises of the NFL, to quote Kitchens “ends today.”


  1. Not the people's choice? Right now Cleveland fans would have his baby. Strange remark.

  2. Hi Richard,

    I think what he meant by that is he was not the people's choice for head coach. They wanted a bigger, splashier name. He was clearly the people's choice to remain as the offensive coordinator.

  3. I like the fact that he looks like Larry The Cable Guy!

  4. So, Bill, are you going to have trouble adjusting to all the winning?

    1. Not at all. I'll gladly go back to the 80's. Its why I've stuck with this team so long.