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Commentary: Freddie Kitchens looks like perfect fit for Baker Mayfield, and that’s what matters

Coach Freddie.

The perfect homespun name for the hometown team. He and it ooze blue-collar, Dawg Pound sensibilities. Coach Freddie seems like a Cleveland kind of guy, and Cleveland seems like a Coach Freddie kind of town.

This could be the start or, more accurately, the continuation of a beautiful relationship.

It’s certainly one that the Browns owed it to themselves to explore to its fullest. They couldn’t afford not to. The numbers begged it. The results screamed it. So the Browns did it.  

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The coaching search that began with General manager John Dorsey saying “it could be a woman” ended with it being Coach Freddie, who a year ago in these parts was an unknown Kitchens utensil.

But Thursday Freddie Kitchens will likely be introduced as the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns. He’s the team’s ninth coach — non-interim division — in the 20 years since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999.

Kitchens to be hired as coach, completing unlikely journey

That works out to roughly one new coach every two years. But none of those coaches had a quarterback as electric as Baker Mayfield to work with. Coach Freddie does.

In the last eight last games of the 2018 season Coach Freddie and Quarterback Baker made beautiful music together. Prior to the arrival of both, the only music the Browns made for the previous 20 years was kazoo-based cat screechings.

Say hello to the Browns’ new Lennon and McCartney.

Hopefully.

What it came down to in Coach Search 2019 was apparently this: The Browns are now a Mayfield-centric organization — and rightfully so. Franchise quarterbacks don’t grow on trees. When you finally find one, after 20 years of groping blindly in the dark, there’s nothing wrong with building your team, and coaching staff, around him.

In today’s NFL, franchise quarterbacks are gold. You won’t win, you can’t win, without one. The Browns have one. How do they maximize the one they have?

Well, for starters, you make sure he gets along with the coach. That’s a known commodity with Mayfield and Kitchens.

A miss on this hire could be catastrophic. The quarterback is in place. Dorsey has built a roster filled with young, talented, hungry players, with more on the way through the draft and free agency, where the Browns can go shopping with a whopping $80 million in cap space.

In the AFC North, the Browns seem like the only team in ascension. Now is not the time to whiff on a head coach hiring.

Yet the Browns hired one who has no head coaching experience, and only a half season of experience as an offensive coordinator. On paper that looks risky.

But on the field, how do you ignore how Mayfield blossomed into an NFL star, and how the Browns reeled off wins in five of their last seven games — games in which Kitchens was calling the plays?

You don’t ignore it. You can’t ignore it. Kitchens and Mayfield clearly have a chemistry between them, despite the fact that both were rookies at their jobs. The end product was too delicious to dismiss.

It was such a dramatic turnaround that Kitchens seemed likely to become the next “hot” assistant coach. If the Browns hadn’t hired him as their head coach, he would probably have been high on the lists of many teams during next year’s coach hiring season.

It seems likely that Kitchens will double as his own offensive coordinator, or at least as his own play caller, which makes sense, because his demonstrated proficiency in that area is the reason he’s now the head coach.

This has suddenly become a unique and compelling moment in Browns history. Generally speaking, teams don’t hire a new coach immediately after a franchise-changing season.

But teams also don’t normally fire a coach during a franchise-changing season.

Leave it to the Browns to produce a franchise-changing season BECAUSE they fired their coach in the middle of it.

Hey, it’s not how you drive, it’s how you arrive.

So here we are. Coach Freddie gets the job, over several candidates, one of whom, Mike McCarthy, never even reached the interview stage, despite extensive head coaching experience, a Super Bowl ring and a history with multiple Browns front office personnel, including Dorsey, the man leading the search.

The search is now over. Now the waiting begins. For the draft, for free agency, for the 2019 season. For Browns fans, none of it can get here fast enough.

Coach Freddie suddenly has a lot on his plate. But he’s the only one with Baker Mayfield on his plate.

Fine dining, indeed.

Jim Ingraham is a sports columnist for the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram and the Medina Gazette. Contact him at 329-7135 or [email protected] and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter

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