Learning from the Freddie Kitchens Experiment

Freddie Kitchens struggled as the Browns head coach. The front office made a risky decision and must learn from their mistakes when hiring the next head coach.
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The Cleveland Browns have released first year head coach Freddie Kitchens after only one season. The team finished with a 6-10 record and third place in the AFC North. Players and fans alike had playoff aspirations following an offseason that added high profile talent, while riding the momentum from success of the prior season. But a season that began with very high expectations quickly whirlwind into a dysfunctional disappointment.

Freddie Kitchens was the obvious scapegoat following a disastrous season. He was placed in a situation that was literally sink or swim, and Kitchens drowned. Throughout the season you could tell that coaching a young team with dynamic personalities was too much for a rookie head coach. The roster in its current state needed a veteran experienced coach to handle gameday preparation.

Kitchens was underqualified for such a demanding responsibility. The biggest red flag upon hiring him was that he had no previous head coaching experience at any level. Freddie Kitchens had roughly ten years of coaching experience and it mostly consisted of being a running backs and tight ends coach. The second biggest promotion he received in his coaching career was being named the Browns offensive coordinator for eight games in 2018.

Part of the decision to promote Freddie Kitchens from running backs coach was influenced from him calling plays in the fourth preseason game in August 2018. Kitchens was then named the offensive coordinator after the team fired Hue Jackson in October 2018. Eleven weeks later he was promoted again to head coach of the Cleveland Browns for the 2019 season. In the span of eight months Freddie Kitchens was promoted from a running backs coach to head coach.

The rapid nature of these promotions was unprecedented in the NFL. For someone that had no prior head coaching experience he was given the responsibility of managing an entire team. Kitchens inexperience showed in his coaching debut at home against the Tennessee Titans. The Browns were embarrassed 43-13 and extremely undisciplined committing eighteen penalties for 182 yards. A dysfunctional offensive scheme and undisciplined play would plague the team for majority of the season.

Freddie Kitchens offensive scheme was a cluster of confusion all season long. His situational play calling was horrendous, and he often would try to be overly creative, but it mostly created negative results. The inefficient usage of running back Nick Chubb, over reliance on passing the ball, and poor clock management essentially summarize Kitchens offensive play calling this season.

The offensive production with Kitchens calling plays all season vastly underwhelmed. Compared to 2018 the offensive passing yards and passing touchdowns decreased while interception to touchdown ratio increased. Taking a step back and utilizing his coaching staff more could have benefited Kitchens.

One factor I believe really impacted Kitchens eventual downfall was pride. Even in moments that you could tell the rookie head coach was overwhelmed, he never deviated from doing things “his way”. At no point during the season did he relieve himself of play calling duties to offensive coordinator Todd Monken.

Monken has both head coaching and offensive coordinator experience but was never given the opportunity to call plays. During his time as the offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay last season he produced 1,571 more passing yards and fourteen more touchdowns than Kitchens this season. That is a testament to Monken’s play calling prowess given that the Browns had more talent this season than the Buccaneers last year.

Freddie Kitchens success and lack thereof was strongly influenced by his individual decisions. As a person he was very likable and heading into the season said all the right things. The decision to fire him didn’t have too much impact from Kitchens the person but rather Kitchens the coach. There were too many responsibilities for Freddie Kitchens to handle and it ultimately cost him his job.

General manager John Dorsey made a very risky decision to hire Freddie Kitchens as the head coach. There are rumors that Dorsey’s own pride may have been a factor in that decision as well. The Browns have been a dysfunctional organization for decades and pride can’t continue to negatively affect growth.

A first-time head coach should not be a huge option in the search. The Kitchens experiment did not work, and a veteran head coach needs to lead the team. Leadership qualities and a proven track record should highly influence the decision for hiring a new head coach. The Cleveland Browns front office has a very important decision to make and that choice will be the difference between playoff contention or further underachievement.