Myles Garrett wasn’t in a vacuum when he wound up and bonked Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph on the head with Rudolph’s helmet Thursday night. He was representing the Browns and the NFL on national TV.
As Garrett’s extreme violent outburst dominated the sports discussion Friday, he wasn’t alone in the need for an image repair.
Coach Freddie Kitchens, whose team leads the league with 87 penalties, was criticized nationally for failing to instill discipline in his players.
The franchise again can’t shake the dysfunction label that’s been attached for more than a decade, despite a rare 21-7 win over the Steelers.
Kitchens conceded Garrett and the organization have work to do to make sure the ugly brawl doesn’t define them.
“We are always searching for ways to improve the way we are viewed as an organization, as a coach and as a player,” Kitchens said on a conference call. “Especially in times like this, of course. Myles wears the Cleveland Brown jersey so we are all in it together.”
The harshest spotlight is on Garrett, who was suspended indefinitely and will miss at least the rest of the season, including the playoffs. He met for a long time with Kitchens on Friday, then apologized to the team, Rudolph, the fans and the NFL.
“I want Myles to understand that the ball is in his court on how he responds to this,” Kitchens said. “It is up to him on showing people and showing the National Football League that that is not who he is. You are looking at a guy who is a tremendous asset as a teammate, in the entire organization and to our fans. He is always out in the community and doing things for the community. He is a good teammate.
“He just lost his cool. He lost his composure. A terrible mistake, and sometimes things like that carry on with someone. If the person puts enough time into it, he can make amends. This will never be like it never happened, but people understand that that is an outlier of Myles Garrett and not the norm.”
That was the popular opinion among teammates, who believe the fight to be out of character. But Garrett was fined $52,639 in the first two games this year — $10,527 for striking Titans tight end Delanie Walker in the helmet in the opener and a pair of $21,056 fines for two roughing calls on Jets quarterback Trevor Siemian in Week 2.
Garrett, a self-proclaimed pacifist, didn’t have the reputation as a dirty player in his first two seasons.
“Myles is a young player, and sometimes young players try to find their way from the standpoint of being physical,” Kitchens said. “Maybe Myles just was not very physical the first couple of years and he has become more physical. Now he has to understand the limitations on that aspect of it.”
Kitchens bristled Thursday night when asked if the team is out of control given the season-long penalties, the fight and two helmet-to-helmet hits that knocked Steelers receivers from the game with concussions. He got even more defensive when the slew of fights in the training camp practices against the Colts was mentioned.
“I never OK’d fights. Did I want them to get after their ass? Yes, I did, but that is not fighting,” he said. “That is not after the whistle. Between the whistles, yes. I never condone fighting on the football field because that is penalties. I do not coach penalties.”
He took a hard line on the end-of-game melee.
“I just know that while I am the head coach here, that is not going to be acceptable in any form, fashion or anything,” he said.
Receiver Odell Beckham agreed, and wouldn’t connect the fight to a bigger issue plaguing the team.
“At the end, you’ve just got to be more disciplined,” he said. “There’s no place in the game for it.”
Kitchens actually found a positive in the chaos.
“It sounds crazy saying this, but I thought our sideline handled it well,” he said. “If you look on our sideline, pretty much everybody remained on the sideline and I was proud of the discipline that they showed to do that because they understand it is a penalty to go out onto the field of play.”
The line of people piling on Kitchens was long and included former Browns coordinator Todd Haley, who brought Kitchens to town as running backs coach last year then was fired at midseason and replaced by Kitchens.
“This comes back to coaching,” Haley said on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “This falls squarely right on the head coach.
“I see a lot of stuff being allowed to happen. It’s happening too much. It’s not just a fluke.”
“I do not really give much thought into what Todd says. I am not even going to respond to it,” Kitchens said. “We have to do a better job of maintaining our composure, everybody.”