The Cleveland Browns came into this season in an unfamiliar position. A lot of people expected them to be good.
There was one big question, and that was whether first-year coach Freddie Kitchens was the right hire. Kitchens had a meteoric rise, from fairly anonymous position coach in the middle of the 2018 season to head coach of the Browns after a good half-season calling the offense as interim offensive coordinator.
It was a boom-or-bust hire, and it busted. The Browns were terrible and Kitchens was fired after Sunday’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Team brass confirmed the firing shortly thereafter. Owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said, “Our focus is on hiring an exceptional leader for this football team and we will take a comprehensive approach to the process.”
GM John Dorsey said they were “disappointed” by the Browns’ season and felt a change was “necessary.”
Kitchens’ play-calling was criticized all season. There was in-fighting and some blow-ups on the sidelines. Kitchens seemed in over his head all season.
He won’t get a second season. The Browns, despite leaking to some media members with a few games left that they wanted Kitchens to get a second season, are looking for a new coach. Again.
Freddie Kitchens was a risky hire
The Browns’ job was appealing a year ago. Despite many years of losing, the team had a strong finish to the 2018 season, a fun young quarterback in Baker Mayfield and the draft picks and cap space to build even more. They used some of that capital to trade for New York Giants star receiver Odell Beckham.
When the Browns hired Kitchens it seemed like a worthwhile gamble, though it was clearly a gamble. The Browns played well in the second half of last season, Mayfield and Kitchens seemed like a great fit and Cleveland must have wondered if it unearthed a coaching star after Kitchens had toiled in obscurity for years.
But the head coach job is a lot different than being an interim offensive coordinator or running backs coach, and Kitchens couldn’t handle it. The Browns, with one of the more talented rosters in the NFL, finished 6-10 and ended the season with a loss to a Bengals team that was 1-14 coming in.
Browns had an awful season
The Browns’ opener, in which they lost 43-13 to a Tennessee Titans team quarterbacked by Marcus Mariota, was a sign of impending doom. The Browns would not be above .500 at any point this season. There was too much talent on the roster for the Browns to be so bad. Mayfield struggled. Beckham was never a factor. Kitchens made plenty of missteps, including wearing a “Pittsburgh started it” T-shirt, referencing an altercation between Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, who was suspended for the rest of the season. It showed a lack of awareness for his job.
And still, the Browns seemed like they would give Kitchens a second season. The Browns had four coaches in a row get either one or two seasons before being oddly patient with Hue Jackson, who was fired in the middle of last season, his third with the team. Cleveland clearly didn’t want to go one-and-done with another coach.
But Kitchens had such a bad year, it didn’t make much sense to try again. The Browns job isn’t as attractive this time around. Mayfield is a question mark now. Beckham’s future will be a constant topic of conversation. There’s still some young talent but also big questions, like a bad offensive line.
The Browns will still have interest from top candidates. And they’re likely to make a safer hire this time around.
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