When the Carolina Panthers fired Ron Rivera earlier this month, many people around the NFL had an innate sense he would be a head coach again in 2020 for another team.
The Browns (6-9) would be wise to move on from Kitchens after Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals.
This was supposed to be the honeymoon phase for Kitchens and the Browns, a team that was favored to win the AFC North at the start of the year.
— Odds Shark (@OddsShark) August 13, 2019
Instead, the Browns have now had 12 consecutive losing seasons and haven’t made the playoffs since 2002.
Only the Seattle Mariners of Major League Baseball have a longer active playoff drought (18 seasons) in North American professional sports.
Kitchens had never served as a head coach until the Browns promoted him in January 2019.
Last season, he was the Browns’ running backs coach before the team promoted him to offensive coordinator midseason after firing head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
There has been plenty of evidence that Kitchens is in over his head as a first-time head coach.
1. Questionable coaching decisions and poor clock management
Most recently, Browns fans will point to Kitchens’ decision not to run the ball at the end of the first half in the Week 16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Leading 7-6, the Ravens did not have any timeouts.
After three consecutive Baker Mayfield incompletions, the Browns punted it back to the Ravens with 1:02 left in the second quarter.
Baltimore scored its second touchdown on as many drives to end the first half to take a 14-6 lead into halftime.
Kitchens’ in-game decision making has consistently been horrible for a football coach at any level.
It includes the Browns running the ball on a 4th-and-9 play against the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 22.
Kitchens also doubled down on a decision to leave time on the clock at the end of the first half during the 32-28 loss on Oct. 13 to the Seattle Seahawks.
What about the Week 14 matchup against the Bengals, when Kitchens decided not to use a single timeout in the first half?
The Browns won the game, but the team had the Bengals in a 4th-and-20 situation at the Cincinnati 24-yard line with 31 seconds left in the second quarter.
Kitchens let the clock run out instead of using a timeout to attempt a punt block, punt return or an offensive drive.
However, Kitchens’ most egregious in-game decision came when the Browns purposely took a false-start penalty on a 4th-and-11 situation against the New England Patriots on Oct. 27.
Kitchens then put his offense back on the field on 4th-and-16 before Mayfield got sacked.
After the game, Kitchens said he took the false-start penalty on purpose to preserve the team’s final timeout.
So false start in 4th & 11, with punt unit, Freddie pulls them puts offense out for 4th & 16. Baker sacked. Nathan Zegura just reported, #Browns deliberately false started so the offense could return to the field because Kitchens didn't want to burn final timeout. Clown show.
— Daryl Ruiter (@RuiterWrongFAN) October 27, 2019
Not helping matters, Kitchens has also refused to surrender his playing-calling duties to offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
Perhaps Monken could have managed the clock better and translated running back Nick Chubb’s production into more victories.
Chubb enters Week 17 as the NFL’s leading rusher with 1,453 yards.
The 2011 season marked the last time a team with the NFL’s leading rusher didn’t make the playoffs.
The Jacksonville Jaguars went 5-11 that year when Maurice Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing with 1,606 yards.
2. Players don’t respect him
Can you imagine other star players doing this to Super Bowl-winning coaches like Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin, John Harbaugh, Sean Payton, Pete Carroll or Doug Pederson?
It would never happen.
Sometimes, perception is reality, regardless of how Kitchens has tried to downplay the sideline shenanigans.
Kitchens has been the homeboy as a head coach, not the father figure.
Want more proof?
Headed into Week 17, the Browns rank 30th in the NFL in penalties (7.9 penalties per game) and penalty yards (71.5 yards per game).
Odell Beckham didn't look very pleased with Freddie Kitchens on the sideline. pic.twitter.com/ypRj5da1Zy
— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) December 22, 2019
— Jon Doss (@JonDoss) December 15, 2019
3. Lack of accountability
Leading up to the rematch against the Steelers, Kitchens was photographed wearing a “Pittsburgh Started It” T-shirt.
The picture quickly went viral on social media.
It is anybody’s guess as to why Kitchens decided to add fuel to the fire, especially when the Browns had to play the Steelers again.
Kitchens said his daughters wanted him to wear the shirt, and that he’d “wear it again.”
— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) December 1, 2019
Did the Browns really need to give the Steelers any more motivation after one of the ugliest brawls in the history of North American professional sports?
Where is the accountability within the organization?
Where do the Browns go from here?
Parity exists in the NFL and the margin for error is extremely small among the elite teams in the league.
How much longer can the Browns allow Kitchens’ ineptitude to continue to cost the team?
I’ve written this before, but to assess Kitchens’ value ask yourself these two questions:
- Would another NFL team rather have Kitchens over its current head coach?
- Would another NFL team hire Kitchens as a head coach if the Browns decide to fire him?
I’d be surprised if another NFL team answered “yes” to either of those questions.
At age 45, Kitchens is still relatively young, but he won’t be an NFL head coach again after this rollercoaster of a season and whatever is left of his Cleveland tenure.
Maybe the Browns could get someone like Rivera, former Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy, Baltimore Ravens coordinator Greg Roman or former Ohio State Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer to replace Kitchens.
Time will tell.