CLEVELAND — Cleveland Browns coach Freddie Kitchens was honest and straightforward in how he dealt with players as an interim offensive coordinator during the second half of the 2018 regular season, and that approach caught the attention of players and decision-makers alike.
Browns general manager John Dorsey was impressed by how Kitchens handled the midseason transition, that he was the choice to be the 17th full-time head coach in franchise history, and in order have success, quarterback Baker Mayfield believes it will come by remaining true to those principles.
“I think Freddie needs to continue to be himself,” Mayfield said during Odell Beckham Jr.’s introductory press conference Monday. “Everything he stood for last year, when he was our interim offensive coordinator, was about being upfront, holding each other accountable, working hard, working for us and being just upfront about everything.
“I think just to set the tone with everybody, a lot of defensive guys haven’t gotten the chance to be around him, so being that same guy he was for us as an offense the second half of the year and being around those defensive guys, getting to know them, making sure they can trust him and just believe in what we are doing. We are not going to have it all figured out right now, but come September, we are going to be ready to go.”
Kitchens’ elevation to head coach in early January capped an unusual 12 months for the well-traveled NFL assistant.
Hired on January 24, 2018, Kitchens was initially the running backs coach and associate head coach. During an unprecedented staff upheaval at the midway point of the 2018 season, Kitchens took over the play-calling duties when coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley were dismissed.
Kitchens, who was a popular interview request from other NFL teams, helped the Browns increase their points per game and got solid play out of Mayfield.
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.
“I love him,” Beckham Jr. said of Kitchens. “Gave him a big hug. He told me he loved me (laughter). We just went from there. He is just straightforward. It is just authentic from what I can tell at the moment. Only time will tell in every aspect of life.”
While the first impression was a positive one, Kitchens knows much has to be done to build trust between the coaching staff and players in the locker room.
“It is not about the end result, it truly is not,” Kitchens said. “It is about doing the best we can every day and for them to know that I gave them the best that I could give them today, tomorrow, the next day, and the same thing for our staff, that they have given them the best that they could every day.
“That is all we are going to ask in return of them is just their best. If they are not good enough, that is fine. If we get their best and collectively, it can’t be just pick and choose when they want to give us their best. It is every day. This is an every-day proposition between coach and player. That is the only way I know.”