Eight games in, and the Freddie Kitchens experiment is not going well in Cleveland.
Indeed, it was and is an experiment. A calculated risk. A measured, weighted decision to elevate an interim offensive coordinator who had no grooming for a head-coaching job — and whose lack of grooming continues to reveal itself.
The Browns, after the team unexpectedly finished 2018 with a 7-8-1 record, could have tried to hire another coach and to keep Kitchens as the offensive coordinator. But even if the Browns had pulled that off, Kitchens’ name would have made its way into the discussion for head-coaching opportunities elsewhere, if he’d continued to produce impressive results with quarterback Baker Mayfield. So the Browns ultimately may have had Kitchens for only one more year.
They ultimately may have him for one more year, anyway, if the organization decides that Kitchens is the latest in a long line of coordinators who can’t make the leap to head coach.
But in Kitchens’ defense, he’s not prepared for the job in large part because no one had prepared him from the job.
“I can tell you in my case. I was 14, 15 years as an assistant coach, my last four working under Denny Green,” Hall of Fame head coach Tony Dungy said last week on PFT Live. “He was telling me, ‘Hey, you’re going to be a head coach. You need to be on top of this.’ He allowed me into meetings, and into personnel meetings. He would come to talk to me and tell me, ‘I’m thinking of making a quarterback change, here’s why, here’s what’s going to go with it.’ He prepared me for four years. When I got the job [in Tampa], it was still overwhelming. When you don’t prepare, when you haven’t had that like Freddie, it’s going to be a learn on the run. It’s not his fault.”
It’s also not his fault that expectations were sky high — although it’s partially his fault that the expectations weren’t brought under control
“Cleveland I always thought they were going to be a year away,” Dungy said Friday. “Everyone was talking about this year being their breakthrough year. I just felt like getting everybody together, working all of those parts together, I think they can have a tremendous year next year. But I just didn’t see it happening so quick and I think that’s going to be the case. I think they’ll flash, they’ll win some games, they’ll look great at times, but it’s still going to be a rollercoaster for them the rest of this year.”
The rollercoaster has been down so far, with six losses in eight games. And the fans are indeed getting restless, as evidenced by a simple “Freddie Kitchens one and done?” Twitter poll question posted on Sunday night. With more than 47,000 votes and counting, 94 percent say “yes.” 94 percent! In 2019 America, we can’t get 94 percent of the people to agree on what day it is, and 94 percent of the respondents to this specific question agree that Kitchens should be fired after one season.
I’m withholding judgment for now. After next week’s Buffalo game, the schedule softens a bit. A late run remains possible. But it won’t be easy as Kitchens tries to figure things out on the fly, and it won’t be easy for the organization to decide whether to give him another year to do it, if he doesn’t down the stretch.