CLEVELAND — Quarterback Baker Mayfield is confident Freddie Kitchens is the right man to lead the Cleveland Browns.
Speaking with the media Wednesday night after winning the Professional Athlete of the Year Award at the 19th Greater Cleveland Sports Awards at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel, Mayfield pledged support for Kitchens, who was hired as the Browns’ 17th full-time head coach on Saturday, January 12.
“Our relationship during the year and just how open the communication was, the goals were set out and he knew exactly how he wanted to get it done,” Mayfield said. “I believe in Freddie, and I think everybody else around here does, too.”
Kitchens was a popular request for interviews for open offensive coordinator positions across the NFL, but the Browns did not permit another team to talk to him during the offseason. Instead, the Browns’ front office decided to keep Kitchens in house after he helped the offense increase their points per game and got solid play out of Mayfield, as well as seldom-used first-year running back Nick Chubb.
Under Kitchens’ direction, Mayfield completed 180 of his 263 attempts (68.4 percent) for 2,254 yards and 19 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Mayfield averaged 281.75 yards and 2.375 touchdowns per game with Kitchens calling the plays.
Chubb finished the 2018 season, one in which he was seldom used in the first seven games, with 996 yards and eight touchdowns on 192 carries. Chubb had 11 20-yard runs, four 40-yard bursts and 47 first-down conversions.
After Kitchens took over the play-calling duties from former offensive coordinator Todd Haley on October 29, Chubb rushed for 788 of his 996 yards and five of his eight touchdowns on 140 carries. After the changes in the coaching staff, Chubb averaged 5.63 yards per carry and became a contributing member in the passing game as well.
“I trust them that whatever was best for the team, they would choose that,” Mayfield said of the coaching search committee. “It just so happened that was Freddie. I trusted him during the year and we had some success, so that was comfortable for me.”
At 2-5-1 following a 33-18 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 28 and in the middle of an unprecedented midseason coaching staff upheaval following the dismissals of Haley and former coach Hue Jackson with eight games left to play, the 2018 Browns looked to be anything but a team capable of the greatest year-to-year turnaround in franchise history.
But a 5-3 record over the second half of the season and a three-game winning streak in December secured the Browns’ greatest turnaround in team history, as they finished plus-7.5 in victories over the winless 2017 campaign.
After the announcement was made, Mayfield and Kitchens maintained a high level of communication during the offseason, something the soon-to-be second-year quarterback hopes to build on throughout the training program, which gets underway in April, through to training camp and into the 2019 season.
“We talk quite often,” Mayfield said. “He’s been excited about what they’re doing. I asked him what everybody else was like before I met them, just to get his thoughts, and everything he said holds true to that. We talk often, but that’s the same kind of relationship we had during the season.”