CLEVELAND — Leading the procession to the post-practice interviews on the first day of the rest of your Cleveland Browns football life was the franchise quarterback and recent ESPN The Magazine cover boy.
Even though Baker Mayfield isn’t fond of the term “franchise quarterback” as we learned in the telling — likening it to being tagged a politician — it rolls off the tongue in this town after so many years of watching the alternative.
Next came Myles Garrett, followed by August GQ cover model Odell Beckham Jr. only hours removed from posting his Browns hype video (“Believeland, we’re here”), then shutdown cornerback Denzel Ward.
Talent like this hasn't often come together outside of the red carpet at the Rock Hall.
The custodian and winner of this Berea Dream House Giveaway — not quite a turnkey operation but close enough — came next.
Freddie Kitchens couldn’t help but look like the answer to the old test question: “Which of these doesn’t belong with the others?”
It might be the case with any first-time NFL head coach. But more so for Kitchens, who has never been a head coach anywhere and is just a year removed from a Hard Knocks cameo as a running back’s coach who disagreed with Hue Jackson’s training camp philosophy.
There’s an old saying, the updated version of which is this:
You don’t want to be the coach who follows Nick Saban or Bill Belichick. You want to be the coach who follows the coach who follows Saban or Belichick.
As for following Hue Jackson, bring it on as Mayfield said last year after taking over at QB. But technically Gregg Williams got that benefit.
Kitchens can’t just be better than Jackson in his first year calling all the shots. Williams already did that. Williams wasn’t here long enough but Kitchens needs to show there was good reason why John Dorsey wanted him over an interim coach who turned the season around.
Kitchens is in unchartered territory — a rookie taking over a team not just expected to win the division and make the playoffs but to launch an era of winning.
A team brimming with talent. Stocked with experienced coordinators. Run by a lifer GM.
“I want everybody to understand this – our goal here with the Cleveland Browns as long as I am here will always be to win the Super Bowl,” Kitchens said Wednesday. “Now that is the last time I will say that. Just know and make it a given that that is what I believe to my core is to win the Super Bowl.”
Kitchens is unique and different in lots of ways. But the thought that he’s a bold pioneer in embracing big expectations where other Browns head coaches did not is an example of selective memory.
You know the last coach to talk about winning the Super Bowl?
Jackson talked about how he was going to bring the Super Bowl trophy to town during his first season as Browns head coach.
That 1-15 season switched the focus for him from someday winning the Super Bowl to simply trying to avoid hypothermia in Lake Erie.
One day, he had his eyes on an Oscar. The next he was an extra in Sharknado.
The difference for Kitchens? Soon everybody will expect him to reach the Super Bowl, if not win it.
Kitchens does act the part, even if he doesn’t look it. He over-acts it at times, too. But that’s an outside-in view, not to be confused with how players see him.
“He is consistent and players trust him,” general manager John Dorsey said Wednesday. “Guess what? He also flips to the other side and holds those players accountable, and I think that is damn important.
"They trust him, too, and that is big. If you call them out on certain things, if you are consistent on a day-to-day basis, that is all you can ask for in your head coach.”
A lot more will be asked of Kitchens. The Browns were 7-8-1. The hype around them suggests 15-1.
So far, Kitchens is either the coolest cat this side of a New Orleans jazz club or -- like so many before him -- he doesn’t yet know what he doesn’t know about being a head coach and will join the long procession of Browns coaches whose ultra confidence in July was dented by the rigors of the job.
If what Kitchens says of Mayfield — “he knows what he’s doing; he’s not just a guy flying by the seat of his pants” — also applies to the head coach it will go a long way to answering the most intriguing question facing the Browns.
Does the talent assembled include the head coach?
- Kitchens speaks forcefully on many topics. This is sometimes the case with coaches who haven’t yet experienced how circumstances can conspire to turn black and white into gray.
His vow to “not give good players away” will be the one you see replayed on TV should the Browns decide to trade Duke Johnson at some point.
- On Kareem Hunt, who is suspended for the first eight games:
“Kareem is always going to have our support.”
“Always” is an especially long time for a player with Hunt’s issues and for a team that claims to have a zero tolerance policy.
- ”It’s never been harder to be a player in the NFL.” said Kitchens, referring to Hunt recently being questioned by police outside a downtown establishment. “Advances in social media…everything they do is under the microscope, every little thing, no matter how big or small, is made into a big deal.”
OK. That's no doubt true.
But I think we can agree lots of players have made it look much easier than Hunt has.
- I’m also not sure “advances” is a word that should ever be applied to social media.
- In Washington, head coach Jay Gruden says the quarterback competition among Colt McCoy, Case Keenum and rookie Dwayne Haskins “might come down to the wire.”
And now you have one more reason to be thankful for the Browns finally drafting a franchise quarterback.
- Former Seattle safety Earl Thomas says he has no regrets about giving Seahawks coach Pete Carroll the middle finger during a game last year.
Baker Mayfield glaring at Hue Jackson looks almost polite now.
- In Kansas City, head coach Andy Reid said, “We have to trust Tyreek Hill.”
Let’s be fair. That’s not quite like trusting that a bungee cord made of dental floss will keep you safe on your Grand Canyon plunge.
- The Yankees gave former Indians slugger Edwin Encarnacion a plush stuffed parrot after his 30th home run of the season Wednesday.
That’s eight consecutive seasons of at least 30 home runs for Encarnacion, who began the streak when he was 29.
If he does it again next year, Encarnacion will join a select group of hitters with eight consecutive seasons of 30 or more homers after the age of 30. That group includes Babe Ruth.
I know. You were thinking Duane Kuiper, but no.
- The Twins and Yankees combined to hit 20 home runs in the three-game series, won by New York, 2-1.
The Twins 10-7 loss Wednesday left them just two games ahead of the charging Indians after leading by 11 1/2 games in early June. Both teams held serve with wins Thursday.
It should be a terrific race to the finish, one enjoyed by all Cleveland fans capable of focusing on something important in the midst of Odell Beckham releasing another You Tube video.
- Have a weekend.