Picking a coach isn’t about the win-loss record over half a season.
It’s not about continuity.
It’s not about finding an offensive genius.
What matters is identifying the best person for the enormous job.
That’s an all-encompassing description. It’s as much about feel as resume. It requires conviction.
Above all, the next coach of the Browns must be able to lead 53 guys. Not just Baker Mayfield. Not just the offense.
That’s not a leap every assistant can make. Or every college coach.
It’s one of the main reasons Mike McCarthy is at or near the top of my list and John Harbaugh would’ve been if the Ravens hadn’t committed to bringing him back next season. They’ve demonstrated for at least a decade they can command the room and earn the respect of an NFL team.
It’s a significant reason to give Chiefs assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Dave Toub a long look. He’s stood in front of the entire team for years and gotten results.
General manager John Dorsey must not lose sight of what’s important when interviews begin next week. As the man in charge of the search, he’s tasked with a tremendous responsibility.
After two decades of aimless searches and numerous failures, the Browns finally have a general manager and a quarterback they can trust. The coach is the missing piece of the triumvirate.
With the right three guys working together, the Super Bowl becomes the realistic goal.
Firing coach Hue Jackson on Oct. 29 was clearly the necessary move, and at least 10 months overdue. But the timing gave fans and media the last half of the season to overanalyze the search for a replacement while underestimating the importance of the decision.
Media and fans are making a push for interim coach Gregg Williams to stay because he’s 5-2 since stepping in for Jackson. I heard a proposal that the Browns should sign him for a couple of years to see how he does in the permanent role. The argument included something along the lines of: What’s the worst that could happen?
Are you kidding me? How about wasting two years of Mayfield’s career?
Williams has done a remarkable and admirable job in a difficult spot. He restored sanity while establishing credibility and belief. He’s helped change the losing culture that festered under Jackson.
But Williams should only keep the job if Dorsey believes he’s better than McCarthy, Toub, Lincoln Riley, Bruce Arians, Eric Bieniemy and any under-the-radar candidates on Dorsey’s short list. The next coach should be the right person for the next decade. And Dorsey should have quality choices.
He can’t settle.
He also can’t get caught up in the hot finish under Williams, even if the Browns pull the upset Sunday in Baltimore and knock the Ravens out of the playoffs. One game shouldn’t matter in a decision about the next decade.
Dorsey said in November that Williams deserves an interview, and that is a million times truer nearly two months later. But Dorsey needs to take a step back to gain perspective.
Williams benefits from following Jackson. Anyone would’ve looked better. Dorsey has to ask himself if Williams’ message and over-the-top personality, which he’s toned down since getting the interim tag, works over the long term.
He also must remind himself that mediocre head coaches can go on a winning streak. Romeo Crennel went 10-6 with the Browns in 2007 and no one would want him back. Dom Capers went 12-4 in 1996 with Carolina and never had another winning record in eight seasons as a head coach. They aren’t the only examples.
Too many times fans and media fall for what we know. The familiarity is comforting and in direct contrast to the fear of the unknown.
Dorsey must rise above that instinct. I think he will.
He likely gets one chance to pick a coach. The timing is perfect. The team is young and improving. Mayfield is on a trajectory to stardom. The players just need a coach to lead them over the long term.
An interesting alternative is red-hot Freddie Kitchens. He’s been a coordinator and play caller for only seven games, but Mayfield’s improvement in that time has been startling.
That alone doesn’t qualify Kitchens to be a head coach. But he’s paid his dues as an NFL assistant since 2006, is universally beloved by employers and players and has opened eyes across the league.
Hiring Kitchens would be a leap of faith — just like it would be with anyone without experience as a head coach (Toub, Bieniemy) or in the NFL (Riley, Matt Campbell) — but he should join Williams on Dorsey’s post-season interview list.
Kitchens deserves a lot of the credit for the second-half surge, and his influence feels more tangible and sustainable.
Dorsey’s decision won’t be easy. It could also be influenced by factors outside his control, such as another team going after his candidate. The final hurdle will be convincing owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam his choice is the right one.
Dorsey must stay true to his principles. And focused on what’s important.