Will Freddie Kitchens Survive His First Season?

Another disheartening loss, this one to the two-win Broncos, has the Browns coach sitting on the hottest of seats. What is the fate of the first-year coach?
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There are coaches who are fortunate enough to be able to wait for the ideal situation before taking their first head job. Steady ownership. (Relatively) low-pressure atmosphere, without the tendency to hook people after one year. A coaching staff that isn’t front-loaded with a lot of big names and, consequently, a lot of sensible escape hatches should a decision-maker want to make a change mid-season. A roster that isn’t stuffed with combustible, win-now talent. A general manager on equal footing.

Freddie Kitchens did not have that luxury when he took the job and certainly doesn’t now. That’s why the eyes of the football world will be upon him these next few weeks.

The Browns lost (again), this week to the previously 2-6 Broncos, who were starting a quarterback they scooped off waivers in September. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry were scolded by the league for uniform infractions. Beckham complained in earshot of a broadcaster about not getting the football in a critical spot (which he later denied saying). Everything feels like it is circling the drain, even if most major players are keeping up their required platitudes of togetherness when standing near a camera or recording device.

But let’s consider the situation in its entirety….

• This is not a team that is built for a steady ascent, and even if they were, the Browns are playing far worse than they were a year ago. Kitchens is not a brand name with a proven track record of success.

• The football decision-makers don’t have a massive window with which to maximize the skill position talent on the roster or validate the high-risk trades they’ve made. They’ll likely hurl a ton of money and draft capital at the offensive line situation this offseason and hope that they make a playoff run in 2020.

• If there is a question as to the root problem—talent or scheme—it’s the word of the G.M. who built the Kanas City Chiefs against a first-time head coach who got his first coordinator job midway through the 2019 season.

• There are a handful of coaches with head-coaching experience, plus coordinators who have interviewed well in the past, who may merit a look before the decision-makers decide to junk the entire staff (Todd Monken has interviewed for head coaching jobs, Stump Mitchell was the head coach at both Morgan State and Southern, Steve Wilks was the head coach of the Cardinals last year, etc.)

It seems the Browns, who play the 6-2 Bills next week, followed by a game against the Steelers on short rest the following Thursday, are confronting a fork in the road. They could see their post-Buffalo schedule—featuring two cracks at the Roethlisberger-less Steelers, a game against the Dolphins and two matchups with the winless Bengals—as soft enough to make their 2019 campaign digestible. Kitchens could go into the offseason with some confidence, find his voice and assert himself as the answer for Baker Mayfield in lieu of giving the former No. 1 pick three head coaches in three years.

Or…

The Browns could realize that the situation may get worse and search for someone who can steady the ship. At the very least, they may look for someone to take a fresh approach with the offense. The Browns are not a top-25 team in points or passing yards. Neither Beckham nor Landry are top-20 wide receivers. Baker Mayfield has a lower passer rating than Daniel Jones.

Kitchens knew that the undeniable perk of this job was the talent. Winning games with this roster in this city would create a force we’ve rarely seen in the NFL. The flip side is that losing would also kick into gear the hot stove in which he’s coaching.

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PRESS COVERAGE

1. Lamar Jackson downs the Patriots. (How stupid do you feel if you thought he was a wide receiver?)

2. The hell happened to the Packers in L.A.?

3. Down to a fourth and goal, the Raiders flex their muscles and steal an impressive win.

4. A hell of a game between the Colts and Steelers comes down to “Laces Out!”

5. Doug Marrone now retreats into the belfry to decide on Foles/Minshew.

6. Christian McCaffrey is INCREDIBLE.

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THE KICKER

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• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.