If Browns Fire Kitchens, Expect a Prearranged Replacement
In the event the Cleveland Browns opt to fire Freddie Kitchens, there won't be a drawn out, thorough coaching search for his replacement the way they did last time. The most likely scenario they would fire Kitchens is if they have his replacement prearranged and ready to be named immediately, even if they delay the hiring announcement. Not only can John Dorsey ill afford a coaching search that would leave any potential for him to be without a candidate to his liking, it's also critical that he's able to negotiate his own standing within the organization. He's not going to put himself in a position to be surprised by ownership when presented with a candidate they love and then agree to take away some of his organizational control to ensure they get their preferred choice.
If he hasn't already, Dorsey would figure out who he wants through back channels, send out feelers that can't be connected directly to him and proceed from there. After all, this is how Dorsey got the general manager job with the Browns in the first place. And at the time, before Dorsey was hired by the Browns, he was working on a coaching staff to step in and take over the following season, but ownership decided to retain Hue Jackson. One area the Browns have improved significantly since Dorsey has arrived is eliminating leaks within the organization, so it shouldn't come as a surprise people haven't been able to report anything on this front.
This would eliminate any notion of hiring Lincoln Riley, who is preparing his team for a playoff game as the head coach of Oklahoma, not that he was a realistic option anyway. It also stands to reason that if he were to fire Kitchens, Dorsey has zero interest in hiring another first time head coach. He'd be hiring an experienced head coach, likely one that has already coached in the NFL and one that's comfortable with letting him operate as the team's GM, unlikely to challenge his authority.
It would also allow that coach to begin assembling their staff ahead of time, getting a jump on the potential coaching market to bring in the best assistants possible.
It's still unlikely to be New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was never contacted by the Browns the last time they did a coaching search, due to backing out of the Indianapolis Colts job after agreeing to it. The general manager he agreed to work for, Chris Ballard, is one of Dorsey's closest friends in the NFL. Even if the Haslams were to take a bigger role in the coaching search this time, McDaniels with Dorsey would be a forced marriage that isn't likely to end well.
Far more likely, the list of candidates would include former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, current Minnesota Vikings assistant head coach, Gary Kubiak, current Atlanta Falcons assistant head coach Raheem Morris, current Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz or perhaps former Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. Current Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks might be a more viable option than anyone is willing to acknowledge as he's done an excellent job on that side of the ball, was a head coach with the Arizona Cardinals for a year and they've obviously gotten to know him for a year. Given the fact that the Browns would be firing Kitchens after a year the way the Cardinals fired him, Wilks might be inclined to pass, biding his time to take the job that he feels has a better chance to succeed. This is not a definitive list by any stretch; just some possibilities that fit the criteria the Browns are likely to target.
While there are plenty of people that assume Freddie Kitchens is a dead man walking as the current head coach of the Browns, the reality is likely far murkier than that. The organization has to weigh the potential for Kitchens to further grow into the job with another year against the setback they'd suffer from going with someone else, likely losing the very capable staff that Kitchens assembled along with him. Dorsey probably doesn't love the idea of changing around the roster again to fit a new coaching staff as he's already had to do this once, getting rid of a player he drafted like Genard Avery to accommodate it.
This is merely pointing out that any fanciful notion that the Browns would fire Kitchens and then bring in various candidates, trying to lure another big time name fans would love simply isn't realistic. The Browns would almost certainly go with a retread head coach and be one of the first teams to announce their choice, trying to get their ducks in a row as soon as possible to prepare for a critical offseason.
If the Browns are serious about replacing Kitchens, the next three weeks could be crunch time in making that move, but the longer nothing happens, the better the chances for Kitchens to be retained for another year.