Our choices for the top assistant coaches of the year come from very different ends of their career arcs.
Browns offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens was not the team’s offensive coordinator when the year got underway. Kitchens was the running backs coach under Todd Haley, but he got bumped up to the coordinator position when Haley was fired along with head coach Hue Jackson eight games into the season.
The move came with the Browns holding a 2-5-1 record, but they would win five of their final eight games and a major turnaround for rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield was a major reason for that turnaround. Mayfield completed 58.3 percent of his passes while throwing eight touchdowns and six interceptions before the coaching change.
After Kitchens took over, Mayfield completed over 68 percent of his passes and posted 19 touchdowns against eight interceptions. The 27 total touchdown passes are a new rookie record and Kitchens also got rookie running back Nick Chubb going after the Browns traded Carlos Hyde to add another reason why many in Cleveland are hoping that Kitchens will remain with them team regardless of what decision they make with the head coaching position.
While the 2018 season was Kitchens’ coming out party, it was just the latest in a long run of good years for Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Fangio has been running defenses for the last 25 years and the Bears were happy to have him back with the team after hiring Matt Nagy as their head coach last year.
Nagy got to work on building the offense while Fangio took control of a defense that allowed the fewest points in the NFL. They led the league in interceptions and takeaways while scoring six touchdowns and recording 50 sacks on the way to an NFC North title.
That’s led to head coaching interviews for Fangio, although there are likely plenty of people in Chicago who hope that he’s in the running for this award again next year.
Cowboys defensive backs coach Kris Richard and Ravens quarterbacks coach James Urban were a couple of other names that got thrown out in consideration for these awards, but Kitchens and Fangio wound up standing out above the rest.