Go around the National Football League and you’ll find that nearly every team’s head coach played the sport at the collegiate level. The men with headsets who stand on the sidelines every Sunday played for some of the most elite Division I schools, too.
Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury starred at quarterback for the Texas Tech Raiders and even won a Super Bowl ring with the New England Patriots. Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera also won a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears after he was an All-American linebacker at California. Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel was a standout defensive end at Ohio State and wound up winning three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots.
But here’s one you might not have known: Cleveland Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens.
Believe it or not, Kitchens starred at quarterback for the Alabama Crimson Tide. The SEC powerhouse has boasted plenty of star power over the years, especially at the quarterback position. “Broadway” Joe Namath, Kenny “The Snake” Stabler, Bart Starr, Tua Tagovailoa, A.J. McCarron and…Freddie Kitchens? Yep.
More Passing Yards Than Namath and Stabler
The product of Etowah High School won Alabama’s Mr. Football honor in 1992. Kitchens turned down offers from Major League Baseball teams to attend the University of Alabama from 1993-97. He split time as a starting quarterback in 1995 before taking over the job in 1996.
The young rocket-armed kid from Gadsden, Alabama, threw for 4,668 passing yards and 30 touchdowns over his NCAA Career. He ranked fourth in career passing yards and fifth in completions by the time he left Tuscaloosa.
Depending how you look at it, Kitchens was a star for the Crimson Tide. He posted more total passing yards and touchdowns than Namath and Stabler, but his 50.4 completion percentage ranks second to last out of 29 Alabama quarterbacks with at least 1,000 yards in their careers. The 26 interceptions to his 30 touchdowns aren’t a great look, either.
Kitchens best year was in 1996, when he led the team to a 10-3 record and an Outback Bowl berth. He and the Tide beat a Michigan team that featured Brian Griese, Tom Brady and Charles Woodson and won a national championship the following year. Kitchens finished the year with 2,124 passing yards and 14 touchdowns.
Still, Kitchens will tell you he was no good.
“[Joe Namath], (Ken) Stabler — you know Alabama’s had some great quarterbacks,” Kitchens told AL.com. “I was not one of them. But they’ve had some great quarterbacks, you know?”
Though Alabama slipped to a 4-7 record in Kitchens’ final season in 1997, take a look at some of the now high-profile names that were regulars at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Freddie Kitchens Coaching Career
Kitchens is the sixth former Alabama player to be named head coach for an NFL regular season game. Harry Gilmer, Ray Perkins, Mike Riley, Bart Starr and Richard Williamson all did so before him.
Kitchens’ road to the NFL was a long, winding one.
The 44-year-old bounced around college football as an assistant coach. He was the running backs and tight ends coach at Glenville State in 1999, a graduate assistant for LSU in 2000, running backs coach for North Texas for a few years and assistant coach at Mississippi State from 2004-05.
Kitchens jumped to the NFL in 2006 as the Dallas Cowboys tight ends coach. He then became an Arizona Cardinals assistant coach from 2007-17 before earning associate head coach and offensive coordinator duties for the Cleveland Browns in 2018. After the Browns fired head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley midway through the 2018 campaign, Gregg Williams was promoted to head coach and Kitchens to offensive coordinator. He then was named the Browns coach in 2019.
The Browns entered the 2019 season with lofty expectations under second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield, wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, and running back Nick Chubb. With so much talent on both sides of the ball, Kitchens has a lot of pressure to perform in Cleveland.
Needless to say, people still believe in Freddie Kitchens.