Kitchens, who famously crowed “if you don’t wear brown and orange, you don’t matter” at his introductory news conference less than a year ago, was fired Sunday night by the Cleveland Browns following a season in which he failed to lead a talented team to a .500 record — let alone the playoffs.
Kitchens was dismissed shortly after the Browns returned to team headquarters following a 33-23 loss to the lowly Cincinnati Bengals (2-14), who ended Cleveland’s disheartening season and an inglorious 16-game run for the former running backs coach who was hoping for more time.
The Browns (6-10) didn’t come close to meeting expectations. Neither did Kitchens.
Owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam decided one season was enough for Kitchens and parted ways with the 45-year-old, who is the ninth coach fired by the Browns since 1999. Kitchens was a surprising hire a year ago. He had no previous head coaching experience, but his successful eight-game stretch as the team’s offensive coordinator and relationship with quarterback Baker Mayfield sent his stock soaring.
But Mayfield regressed in his second season and Kitchens was plagued by numerous mistakes as a rookie season coach with game management and an inability to get Cleveland’s offense rolling among his most notable flaws.
“We thank Freddie for his hard work and commitment to this organization but did not see the success or opportunities for improvement to move forward with him as our head coach,” the Haslams said in a statement. “Our focus is on hiring an exceptional leader for this football team and we will take a comprehensive approach to this process. We are excited about the core players we have to build around and develop and we look forward to bringing in a strong head coach that will put this group of players in the best position to succeed.”
Kitchens is the fifth coach fired since 2012 by the Haslams, who have shown little patience in a failed attempt to resurrect one of the league’s proudest franchises.
Cleveland hasn’t had a winning record since 2007 and has gone through seven coaches in that 12-year span.
The Browns were a trendy pick to make the postseason under Kitchens after acquiring star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in a blockbuster trade in March from the New York Giants. They paired him with Mayfield, who broke the league rookie record for touchdown passes in 2018.
But the Mayfield-to-Beckham connection was never consistent with Kitchens also handling play-calling duties. The Browns were also one of the league’s most penalized teams for much of the year. Injuries were also a problem, but there were numerous self-inflicted issues — none bigger than star defensive end Myles Garrett being suspended indefinitely for ripping off Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet and hitting him in the head with it during the closing seconds of a Nov. 14 home game.
The Browns got a rare win over their archrivals that night to move back into playoff contention, but Garrett’s loss of control was a poor reflection on Kitchens and his staff.
What direction will the Haslams choose to go in looking for their next coach? Former Packers coach Mike McCarthy was thought to be a candidate last year, but did not interview with Cleveland. He has close ties with Browns general manager John Dorsey and others in Cleveland’s front office and his track record would be appealing.
Former Carolina coach Ron Rivera will also generate some buzz.
“I would like to thank Freddie for his dedication and efforts this past season,” Dorsey said. “We are disappointed in our results and feel a change is necessary. Freddie is a good man and good football coach. We wish he and his family nothing but success.”
Dorsey headed the search that landed Kitchens, and it remains to be seen if he’ll be given as much power by the Haslams this time around. It’s possible they’ll rely more on chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta, who is completing his fourth season with the club after 20 in Major League Baseball.
With the Browns still in the playoff hunt at the beginning of December, it appeared Kitchens might be able to survive his bumpy start as a rookie coach. But after Kitchens was photographed in public wearing a “Pittsburgh started it” T-shirt in reference to the Browns’ brawl with the Steelers a few weeks earlier, Cleveland lost in Pittsburgh, which started third-string quarterback Devlin “Duck” Hodges.
That may have been forgivable, but a Dec. 15 loss at Arizona seemed to seal Kitchens’ fate as the Browns played uninspired and allowed the Cardinals to push them all over the field.
Kitchens received little public support this past week from players, who seemed to understand more change was imminent — and necessary.