The Browns have lost seven of 12 games, and they face long odds to earn the postseason berth that many preseason prognostications had presumed. If they don’t make it, ownership and/or G.M. John Dorsey could decide to pull the plug on the Freddie Kitchens experiment after only one year.
The question of his job security came up at Monday’s press conference. And while Kitchens told reporters that he’s not concerned about his job status, he probably should be.
Though it’s not his fault, he was never groomed to be a head coach. And like many coordinators who get a bump up, Kitchens has bumped up against the apparent ceiling of his coaching abilities. With a talented core of young players, can the Browns afford another work-in-progress season that may not yield nearly enough progress?
If the Browns had held their 10-0 lead over the Steelers on Sunday, the vibe would be far different. But the Browns lost to a lesser team, based on the current position-by-position, player-by-player talent of the two franchises. And that underscores the reality that Kitchens currently doesn’t have what it takes to match wits and abilities with a guy like Mike Tomlin, and it raises the possibility that he never will.
Complicating matters for Kitchens is the infamous “Pittsburgh Started It” T-shirt. Apart from being a bad look, post-game comments from Steelers players made it clear that the gesture backfired, making Pittsburgh more determined to prevail in what basically was a sixth-seed elimination game.
Kitchens at one point on Monday said that he’s done talking about the T-shirt. And then he kept answering questions about it.
“I had a jacket over it so I should not have extended my arm to take the picture,” Kitchens said. “That is what I should not have done.” (In other words, it was OK to wear the T-shirt, as long as no one saw it.)
Was he disappointed that the T-shirt became bulletin board material for the Steelers?
“Yes, of course,” Kitchens said. “If that is what they take as motivation, of course, I am disappointed. I know Mike very well. They are motivated by more than just a T-shirt. We had a lot on the line there for that game, and I do not think that T-shirt put them over the top. Now, that is being strictly honest for you.”
We’ll be strictly honest with Freddie: He needs to be concerned. And he has four games left to earn on the fly a graduate degree in NFL head-coaching, surpassing last year’s 7-8-1 record, ideally finishing above .500, and hoping that ultimately winning seven of eight games to end his first season will be enough to secure a second season.