After a half-season of not being Hue Jackson, Freddie Kitchens has reportedly been hired by the Cleveland Browns as their next head coach, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Wednesday. Interim head coach and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been fired, according to Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot.
Kitchens has completed his stunning rise from virtually unheard-of running backs coach in September to offensive coordinator in October to head coach in January. It was made possible when head coach Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley were fired in an apparent power-struggle-slash-blame-game over who was doing more damage to first overall pick Baker Mayfield’s development. Williams was named interim head coach, while Kitchens became offensive coordinator. The results were instantaneous: The Browns finished 5-3 after starting 2-5-1. It’s hard to overstate the impact that Kitchens had on the offense, which went from one of the league’s worst groups to one of the best.
Under Todd Haley, the Browns ranked 29th in offensive DVOA. Under Freddie Kitchens, they ranked first.— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) January 9, 2019
THAT"s a resume bump.
Mayfield’s numbers also sharply reversed under Kitchens.
The Browns will name Freddie Kitchens their new head coach.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 9, 2019
That could be good news for Baker Mayfield.
Mayfield posted better numbers across the board after Kitchens was promoted to offensive coordinator this past season. pic.twitter.com/5OdJw9gI62
It’s tempting to say that anybody would have been an improvement over Jackson and Haley, but that’s not true given the magnitude of the Browns’ turnaround. Kitchens changed the team’s personnel usage, made the offense less predictable, and instituted more quick throws to create and take advantage of open space on the field. What Kitchens did with the offense was special, and, in addition to the on-field performance, he and Mayfield seemed to enjoy working together.
“We have people that we believe in calling the plays now,” Mayfield told reporters in November about the offense’s turnaround.
Hiring Kitchens is an unexpected route for the Browns, but so was drafting Mayfield no. 1 overall. Now the team is banking on the relationship between Mayfield and Kitchens flourishing. The only knock against this hiring is the thousands of “Baker-Kitchens” jokes we’re going to hear from announcers for the rest of their time together. (“Baker and Freddie Kitchens are COOKING, Jim!”)
The Browns have been the league’s most abysmal team this century. Since being reincarnated as an expansion franchise 20 seasons ago, they’ve had nine general managers, 11 head coaches, 30 starting quarterbacks, and just one playoff appearance, in 2002. Yet Cleveland became one of the most desirable spots in the league after the deposed front-office combo of Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta’s 76ers-inspired rebuild netted the team a stunning amount of young talent, including Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, and Jabrill Peppers—not to mention perhaps the best interior offensive line group in the league and the fourth-most cap space in the NFL entering March. The Browns, yes, the Browns, have the brightest future in the NFL, and now they have a coach who has already shown fans the team’s potential.