Freddie Kitchens might’ve gotten 15 minutes to celebrate fulfilling a career goal of being hired as head coach in the NFL.
Then it was back to work — and reality.
Kitchens beat the odds to get his first head coaching job Wednesday with the Browns — the team is expected to make it official as early as Thursday morning — but the challenges don’t end there. Here are five he’ll have to conquer to succeed where his predecessors failed.
CHIEF OF STAFF
Because Kitchens hasn’t been a head coach at any level, he’s never put together a staff. Since he wasn’t a coordinator until midseason, he’s never even assembled an offensive staff.
The ability to build a roster of talented assistants is a question for all first-time coaches. General manager John Dorsey surely grilled Kitchens about his plan in the interview and likely offered to help.
Kitchens won’t rely on Hue Jackson’s staff, with the majority of the assistants reportedly cut loose before Kitchens’ hiring was made official.
Kitchens has worked under Nick Saban, Bill Parcells and Bruce Arians, so he should have plenty of quality contacts in his phone. He’s expected to keep receivers coach Adam Henry and running backs coach Ryan Lindley, who could move to quarterbacks coach, so the key on offense will be finding a strong line coach to replace veteran Bob Wylie, who was a favorite of the linemen.
The much larger question is on defense.
Kitchens has never worked on that side of the ball and will have to lean on the coordinator. Interim coach and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was let go — the dynamic wouldn’t have worked — but he has the type of resume that Kitchens should seek, with nearly 30 years in the NFL and a Super Bowl win.
He also can’t ignore special teams. Coordinator Amos Jones was a disaster in his only year and isn’t expected to return, but the weekly failures should’ve reinforced to Kitchens the importance of the hire.
A STEP UP
This probably should’ve topped the list.
While analysts spend countless hours examining coaches’ resumes and citing stats, the No. 1 job of a head coach is to lead. Dorsey had it high on his list of requirements.
Kitchens was the starting quarterback at Alabama for three years and has been a coach for 20, so he has leadership skills. He also has a selfless yet charismatic personality that attracts people.
But it’s a different world as the head coach. You must be able to stand in front of 53 men every day and earn their respect and loyalty while presenting a consistent message.
Kitchens, 44, made the jump from running backs coach to coordinator look easy and has one more level to conquer.
A DUAL THREAT
Kitchens got the job, in part, because of the stellar job he did as a first-time play caller. The Browns averaged 21.1 points in the eight games with Todd Haley calling plays and 23.8 under Kitchens. Since the change in Week 9, according to ESPN, the Browns led the NFL in yards per play (6.86), tied for the top spot in yards per pass attempt (8.72), ranked fourth in yards (395.1) and passing yards (285.9) and 14th in scoring.
So it’s hard to imagine Kitchens giving up control.
That means he’ll have to learn to multitask in the ultimate pressure-cooker of an NFL sideline. He’ll have to be able to call the right play on third-and-2 while thinking about whether he’s going to go for it on fourth down if the call fails.
Replay challenges, timeouts and clock management are scrutinized and often make the difference between a win and a loss. That’s a lot for any coach, led alone a rookie who’s calling plays. Kitchens would be best served by finding a former head coach who can help him on the sideline.
THE OTHER STUFF
People can underestimate all the “extras” that go into being a head coach. And I’m not talking about the courtesy car, commercial deals and radio shows.
A position coach, and even a coordinator, isn’t the one who gets the call from the police or the agent when there’s a problem — whether it’s with the law, contract or playing time.
So much falls under the coach’s umbrella, from scheduling to media commitments to wardrobe decisions, that the job is a lot about being a CEO. Kitchens has watched Parcells and Arians handle those chores, but many coaches are still caught off-guard the first time everything gets dumped in their lap.
Dorsey inadvertently put the pressure on Kitchens when he described the Browns job as “very desirable.”
That’s true given quarterback Baker Mayfield, the young and talented roster, significant salary cap space and a bushel of draft picks. But the 7-8-1 record — the best since 2007 — raised expectations from fans and within the organization.
Whereas Kitchens’ predecessors walked into rebuilds, he’ll be greeted with playoff hopes. He better hit the ground running.