CLEVELAND — A new era in Cleveland Browns history began on Tuesday as 37-year-old Kevin Stefanski was introduced as the team's 18th head coach.
This wasn't exactly how the team or its fans thought the script would play out when Freddie Kitchens was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach one year ago.
How did things get to the point where owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam felt they had no choice but to start over with a new head coach and a new general manager (who has yet to be hired)?
Our Brian Crane put together a season in review video timeline that you can check out in the player above. Here are some of the important factors we focused on:
Once the Browns made the March trade for All-Pro wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the expectations for the team in 2019 went through the roof.
The Browns were showcased in prime time, with two Monday Night appearances, one Sunday Night game, and one Thursday night game. In fact, three of their first five games of the season were under the hot glare of prime time.
Sports Illustrated put the team on the cover of its NFL preview issue with the title 'The Browns Are Back.'
Local and national pundits predicted playoffs for the team in 2019, with some even suggesting that the Browns could dethrone the Patriots as the AFC's best team and finally climb the mountain to their long-awaited first Super Bowl appearance.
A nightmare opener
Since the Cleveland Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, they have never fared well in season opening games. Before their matchup with the Tennessee Titans in 2019, the Browns were 1-18-1 in Week 1 games.
Everyone agreed that this had to be the year that trend would end.
Instead we were horrified to watch the Titans pound the Browns, 43-13, at FirstEnergy Stadium. Cleveland committed a ridiculous 18 penalties and looked completely unprepared to play.
That day turned into a harbinger of things to come.
It wasn't the end of the world that the Browns lost on Sunday night to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 3. Most expected it to be a tough game as the Rams were coming in as the defending NFC Champions. Aaron Donald would be a tough matchup for the offensive line. Jared Goff and Todd Gurley would make life difficult for the Browns defense.
But what people took from that game was serious doubt about Kitchens' ability to play call in key situations. Kitchens had the Browns run a head-scratching draw play on fourth-and-nine with 9:19 to go in the game. Then, with the Browns having a first-and-goal at the five-yard line in the final moments with all of their timeouts, Kitchens decided not to give the ball at all to Nick Chubb as Baker Mayfield was intercepted in the end zone in a 20-13 loss.
"If you're looking to blame somebody, blame me," Kitchens relented after the defeat. "Don't blame any of our players, don't blame any of our other coaches. Just blame me because I can take it. Just go blame me and write your articles saying I messed the game up. Write your article and say it's my fault that things aren't looking like they did last year. 'Cause it is."
Losses to teams with young, inexperienced quarterbacks
When you play the NFL schedule game every April, there's always a sense that your team is better than the other team. The Bengals? No problem. The Dolphins? We got this. Arizona? Bring 'em on.
This season, the Browns often found themselves the victim of upsets against teams with poor records and inexperienced quarterbacks.
They lost 24-19 to the Denver Broncos on November 3 as Mayfield was outdueled by Brandon Allen, who was making his first NFL start.
On December 1, some guy named 'Duck' Hodges led the Pittsburgh Steelers to 20 consecutive points and a win over the Browns at Heinz Field.
Then on December 15, Mayfield was outdueled by his fellow Oklahoma Sooner/Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray, who completed 19 of his 25 attempts for 219 yards and one touchdown as the Cardinals upset the Browns in Arizona.
The helmet swing
Ultimately, the season's defining moment came at the end of a victory. The Browns outfought a shorthanded Pittsburgh Steeler team 21-7 on Thursday Night Football on November 14. After Pro Bowl defensive end Myles Garrett tackled Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph to the ground, the two became entangled, with Garrett eventually ripping the quarterback's helmet off of him before striking him with it in the head.
From there, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey tackled Garrett before throwing punches and stomping at him, while Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi rushed in and shoved Rudolph to the floor. Garrett, Ogunjobi and Pouncey were each ejected from the game, with Ogunjobi having been given a one-game suspension and Pouncey receiving a three-game suspension for their actions.
The Browns never recovered.
It wasn't all bad...
There were some highlights to take away from 2019. Nick Chubb finished with 1,494 yards, the most by a Cleveland Brown runner since Jim Brown in 1965, when the Hall of Famer rushed for 1,544 yards in his final season. Chubb was selected to his first Pro Bowl.
He will be joined in Orlando by Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who teamed with Beckham to form only the second 1,000 yard pass-catching duo in team history. Landry also became the first receiver in Browns history to record back-to-back seasons with at least 80 receptions.
In addition, offensive guard Joel Bitonio was selected to his second straight Pro Bowl.
"We are not looking backward, we are looking forward."
The Browns wasted little time making changes once the season ended in Week 17 against Cincinnati. That Sunday night, they fired Freddie Kitchens as head coach after just one season.
While Kitchens' departure wasn't a surprise, the decision by the team to part ways with general manager John Dorsey did raise a few eyebrows. Owner Jimmy Haslam told the media that the team and Dorsey could not agree on a redefined role for the man who had put all his chips on the table for Kitchens. Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta became the point man in the search for a coach and a new front office structure.
And now, the stage is set for Kevin Stefanski. After being a finalist for the Browns head coaching job just one year ago, it now falls on him to try to become the leader this team so desperately needs.
"I understand that and for me - and it is easy: the focus is [on] 2020. We are not looking backward, we are looking forward," Stefanski told the media on Tuesday. "I hope all of our players know that, too. When they walk in the building, whenever it is in April, we are moving forward. Anything that has happened in the past does not affect our future. I am just confident in the group that we have."