When a coaching situation is broken enough to get someone fired in the middle of the season, the interim staff is at an extreme disadvantage from an administrative standpoint.
Tasks need to be delegated. Leftover voices need to be aligned. Egos need to be sorted out in a hurry.
But from an emotional standpoint, there is an advantage. There is an immediate, collective lift when the perceived problem is gone. This was no doubt the case in Cleveland this year, when the Browns fired both head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley eight weeks into the 2018 season. Gregg Williams moved from defensive coordinator to head coach and Freddie Kitchens moved from running backs coach to offensive coordinator. The team went 5-2 down the stretch and both Williams and Kitchens were interviewed for the full-time head coaching gig.
NFL Coaching Tracker:Updates and Reports on Every Open Position
On Wednesday, Kitchens was named head coach on a permanent basis. By all accounts, he is one of the game’s great uncovered coaches. He was a successful collegiate quarterback and has coached most positions on offense over the years. He’s worked under Bill Parcells and Bruce Arians. He arm wrestled the gig away from a slew of qualified candidates, at what may be the most critical juncture in new Browns history given that they finally have a franchise quarterback in No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield.
The question now becomes: Can Kitchens sustain that emotional lift from the interim period?
It’s fascinating to think about. If you’re general manager John Dorsey, how do you decide whether something is the product of one specific moment in time, or whether it’s the beginning of something that could change the franchise? Ignoring for a moment the success rate of on-staff coaches who have taken over head coaching roles (dutifully compiled by The Big Lead this morning), Dorsey had the challenge of examining a moderate sample size and making a gigantic decision.
Was Kitchens’ offense perfect for Mayfield—finally, a blend of pro and collegiate motion concepts that would free up one of the game’s most fearless passers—or was it just a marked improvement from that of his predecessor who, admittedly, had never deeply researched Mayfield’s college offense? Is Kitchens a prolific play caller, or is he a good play caller who is harder to figure out based on the fact that teams had no way of establishing his tendencies?
The Browns deserve credit for what seems to be the most well-reasoned coaching search of their post-1999 reboot. They didn’t chase their tails, they didn’t slobber all over the media’s version of the best candidate on the market and promise them an unreasonable stake in personnel, and they didn’t hire Condoleezza Rice.
At a time of high boom or bust decision making after a frantic round of speed dating, they handed the job to the person they could best understand. Maybe Kitchens struggles to recreate the momentum he had during the latter part of the 2018 season, but the relationship and institutional knowledge are already in place, should he need to go out of his way to fix it.
• Question or comment? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.