The Cleveland Browns will hire Freddie Kitchens on Wednesday to be the 18th head coach in team history, sources told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.
Kitchens served as the Browns’ interim offensive coordinator for the final eight games of the 2018 season. That work and his relationship with and development of quarterback Baker Mayfield were keys to his promotion.
The Browns did not want to lose Kitchens and denied him permission to talk to other teams about offensive coordinator openings during the interview process.
Interim coach and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was relieved of his duties and is no longer with the team.
Kitchens wasn’t well known when the Browns moved him from assistant head coach/running backs coach to interim offensive coordinator after Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were let go. When he started to impress with his playcalling and his name reached the rumor mill as a possible head coach, Kitchens heard the critics say he wasn’t ready.
His retort: “Who the hell is ready to be a head coach?”
General manager John Dorsey said the day after the season that Kitchens had “moved the bar on the offensive side of the ball.”
“He’s gotten the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quicker,” Dorsey said. “I think he’s put some flair and different route combinations together that help out the quarterback.”
Under Haley, Mayfield was 1-4 as a starter (with a win in relief over the Jets) and completed 58.3 percent off his passes with eight touchdowns, six interceptions and 20 sacks. Under Kitchens, Mayfield went 5-3, completing 68.4 percent of his passes with 19 touchdowns, eight interceptions and five sacks.
Mayfield’s presence was important in the hiring process. The Browns view him as the future, to the point that they FaceTimed him into interviews, according to a source with knowledge of the interviews.
Kitchens played quarterback in college under Gene Stallings at Alabama. He has coached under Bill Parcells and Bruce Arians, and with Haley. He worked 11 seasons for the Arizona Cardinals — as running backs, quarterbacks and tight ends coach — before joining the Browns.
During the season, Kitchens talked about his desire to stay with the Browns.
“I like it here and I like it here a lot, and everybody around here knows that I like it here,” he said in December. “I love the town of Cleveland. Cleveland and I get along well.
“I didn’t have a dad as a coach, OK? I didn’t have a starting point in this league. I grew up the son of a tiremaker at Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant in Gadsden, Alabama. Benjamin E. Mays said, ‘Those who start behind in the game of life must run faster to catch up,’ and I feel like I’ve been running fast my whole life. And that’s the way it’s going to continue, so whether it’s here or what, I’m just here to do a job right now, this week and this year.”
Kitchens is the ninth full-time coach since the team returned to Cleveland in 1999 and the 11th if interim coaches are included. He’s also the sixth head coach since Jimmy Haslam took ownership of the team in 2012 (Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski, Mike Pettine, Jackson and interim Williams).
The Browns chose Kitchens after interviewing him, Williams, Saints assistant head coach/tight ends coach Dan Campbell, former Colts and Lions coach Jim Caldwell, Vikings interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski (who interviewed twice), Patriots linebackers coach/defensive playcaller Brian Flores and Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.
Stefanski, a finalist for the Browns’ head-coaching job, is returning to Minnesota as the Vikings’ offensive coordinator, according to a source.
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