The way the Browns tell it, Freddie Kitchens received a funny shirt as a gift and wore it on a birthday outing, naïvely thinking that he wouldn’t be recognized or photographed or made into some cautionary tale of embattled coaches in the internet age. It’s probably the kind of thing you don’t learn to avoid until it actually happens to you, even if a majority of sane, football-loving people couldn’t care less.
What’s harder to reconcile is what might have happened if Cleveland had beaten the Steelers for the second time in a season, pinning their rivals in the game after the fight and, in the court of public opinion, winning the fight of all fights. Would the Browns have accepted and probably played off of Kitchens’s newfound status as a Cleveland folk hero? Would the shirt all of a sudden become a symbol of the team’s bombast and swagger instead of a thing that they wish people would stop asking about in the wake of a crippling loss?
In the coaching business, it’s funny how fine the line can be sometimes between touchable and untouchable. Beating Pittsburgh on Sunday, given the circumstances, may have given Kitchens a coat of Teflon a la Rex Ryan with the Jets. Instead, we’re talking about him here.
It’s no fun to speculate on head-coaching changes because at the end of the day, it means the disposal of good-natured plans and ideas, the firing of nomadic support staff and assistants and the entrapment of in-prime players in the endlessly spinning cycle of change. Ron Rivera was dismissed on Tuesday after nine seasons and a Super Bowl berth. It can be a cold business, even for the league’s good guys. It’s a part of the business nonetheless. Here’s how the heated coaching seats are shaping up across the league and why…
Matt Patricia, Lions; Anthony Lynn, Chargers
I don’t think the Lions will make a move this offseason. This year could be easily written off to injury, which will roll over all of the immense pressure on Matt Patricia to 2020. That said, the team’s pluckiness has worn off and the team that closely battled the Chiefs and Packers earlier this season seems to be fading a bit.
Credit Patricia with this: Only one of the team’s losses this year was by more than one score; the rest were by a margin of 4, 1, 7, 7, 8, 3 and 4. If I’m an open-minded owner and general manager, I may throw this into the optimism stew alongside well, a lot of people were injured this year and give Patricia another chance. Working against him? A defensive coach failing to crack the top 15 in points surrendered each of his first two years (the Lions are currently 25 in points surrendered and 29 in yards surrendered. They are 24 in DVOA).
The Chargers, similarly, should not fire their head coach. Please do not in any way interpret this as an endorsement for letting go of Anthony Lynn. He’s a good head coach who deserves to see the other side of the team’s life with Philip Rivers. The reason he’s considered here is because the Chargers appear increasingly desperate to find some fanfare as they move into their cursed new relationship with the city of Los Angeles and the Rams. The franchise will chase ticket sales in any way possible, and could be convinced into moving on from Lynn and making a loud (and ridiculously stupid) coaching hire. Again, it would be a ridiculous decision from a football operations standpoint, but how many times do owners actually make decisions that are in the best interest of the team?
Freddie Kitchens, Browns; Jason Garrett, Cowboys
This middle category could be renamed high expectations, low delivery. The Cowboys are still inch-worming to the playoffs powered mainly by the puzzling ineptitude of the Eagles. The Browns, meanwhile, are existing solely on fumes and, each week, seem to be perpetually teetering on the brink of complete collapse.
Garrett is a fine coach who was never able to accelerate a series of very talented rosters into the kind of stratosphere his championship-starved owner craves. Kitchens, meanwhile, is very obviously learning on the job despite coaching a team bubbling over with mercurial superstars in the athletic primes of their careers. The Browns are made up of tiny, seemingly meaningless strands of otherwise nonsensical screw-ups that, when assembled together, paint the picture of a team that is simply not mature or disciplined enough to succeed on Sundays.
In short, both coaches are victims of bad timing.
For Garrett, people may not feel as much remorse. He has been coaching in Dallas on a full-time basis since 2011. This is the latest itineration of a roster that boasts a slew of expensive talent, and yet, the team is still middling.
Kitchens accepted the Browns’ job knowing it would be an absolute buzz-saw. The No. 1 pick quarterback had to get better. The star players had to fall in line. The team would have to realize its outsized expectations. I think there is a lot of pressure in Cleveland to win with this group as presently constructed and after the 2019 season, Kitchens will have a lot of difficult questions to answer.
Pat Shurmur, Giants; Doug Marrone, Jaguars; Dan Quinn, Falcons
It truly is fascinating to see where the Giants go from here. The team’s constant desire to dig into their past for help in the future has placed them in one of the most unenviable roster situations in football. Either the franchise keeps the prickly Dave Gettleman at GM and tries to lure in a new head coach who has to deal with Gettleman’s spotty draft record, complete distaste for football analytics and draft economics and his position as an embattled personnel executive who may be inclined to spend his way out of trouble … or they wipe the slate clean and do something drastically different. The latter won’t happen, it seems, out of some lingering fear that an outsider will somehow be worse than this downward spiral.
It will be hard for Shurmur to convince the team he should stay. Daniel Jones is good but leveling off (and is third in dropped interceptions, which might DRAMATICALLY skew our view of him otherwise). Saquon Barkley is hurt but also looks like a shell of himself from a year ago (and, even when he was healthy was woefully underutilized). The expensive but still somehow porous offensive line Gettleman put together is a non-factor.
If I were the Giants I’d use this as an opportunity to take a massive risk outside of the milquetoast pool of assistants who cycle in and out of their doors each time a vacancy arises. Put together a plan. Hire an offensive mind from college who is prepared to run a system that defenses haven’t already figured out how to stop. Get a new general manager who can utilize the Giants’ high draft selection as an opportunity to generate some serious, future-building capital.
Or don’t. They probably won't.
As for Quinn, it’s a bummer to see a coach with a genuinely good reputation potentially at the end of the line. Atlanta’s players have staged a few displays of support but ultimately the on-field product has not mirrored whatever culture Quinn may have successfully created in the building. Marrone, too, had a good run in Jacksonville but it’s getting harder to believe this organization won’t try and wipe the slate clean in 2020, ushering in another tear down and rebuild.
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