Things are turning around in Cleveland in a big way. After winning five of their final eight games this past season, the Browns are now seen as relevant on the larger NFL stage for the first time in two decades.
Riding the strong arm of Baker Mayfield and the talent of fellow rookie Nick Chubb, Cleveland’s offense excelled under then-coordinator Freddie Kitchens over the final eight games — averaging a healthy 24 points per game. It’s a span that saw Mayfield post 19 touchdowns compared to eight interceptions.
Mayfield and Co. exceeded all expectations after Kitchens replaced Todd Haley as the team’s offensive coordinator.
Even then, it was a surprise to learn that the Browns had decided to go in-house for a replacement for interim head coach Gregg Williams.
Fans in Cleveland were excited about Kitchens being hired as the full-time head coach. And for good reason. Cleveland averaged nearly seven yards per play in the eight games Kitchens coordinated its offense. That would represent the highest full-season total since a 2000 St. Louis Rams team that was billed as the “greatest show on turf.”
We’re watching the rapid blossoming of this Browns organization as we know it. The team didn’t go for that sexy or big-name hire — something that has plagued bottom-feeding teams in recent years. Instead, it went with the logical hire.
Kitchens’ relationship with Mayfield is founded under the guise of mutual respect. It’s something we didn’t see between the boisterous quarterback and former head coach Hue Jackson.
Why ruin this evolving relationship by bringing in someone who doesn’t know the nuances of Mayfield’s complicated mind? No one knows how the dynamic would have worked out between the quarterback and an outside candidate such as Mike McCarthy.
It’s in this that the Browns have to be relieved McCarthy turned down the opportunity to coach the team — refusing to keep Kitchens on as the OC in the process.
We can always question what the Browns do. In the past, they have failed at nearly every turn — stepping over themselves in the process. But this is not one of those times.
General manager John Dorsey is a legit candidate for Executive of the Year. His 2018 NFL Draft class was absolutely legit. In addition to Mayfield and Chubb, the Browns added starter-caliber players in the form of cornerback Denzel Ward, offensive lineman Austin Corbett and wide receiver Antonio Callaway. That’s a franchise-altering draft class right there.
Retaining Kitchens gives Cleveland a sense of continuity. He’s a player-first head coach — one that gets along real well with the Browns’ young core.
After years of haplessness in Cleveland, things are turning around. Bringing Kitchens back is just the latest example of this.