The Cleveland Browns are now 2-6. The team has had no shortage of disappointing seasons since their return in 1999, but this is absolutely the worst. The preseason Super Bowl hype was always ridiculous, but almost no one expected the Browns to play as poorly as they have.
Baker Mayfield has regressed. The defense is underperforming. The coaching has been highly questionable at best. There are multiple issues that are plaguing the group, and all of them fall at the feet of the head coach, Freddie Kitchens. The season is, in reality, over, and he is a dead man walking. But does firing him now really accomplish anything, or would it actually be detrimental?
Whatever happens, Kitchens simply cannot be back in 2020. At this point last year, he was Cleveland’s runningbacks coach before the firings of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley elevated him to offensive coordinator. A few months later, his meteoric rise was complete as he was named the Browns head coach. With zero head coaching experience and eight games of calling plays, he was now in charge of the team.
The decision to hire Freddie Kitchens was obviously a massive risk, but based on his performance in 2018, it was also a no-brainer. Kitchens took Haley’s scheme and maximized the talent he was given. Mayfield took massive strides and ended up setting the rookie touchdown pass record. A full offseason to work under Kitchens and new OC Todd Monken (fresh off a very successful season with a less talented Tampa Bay offense), along with the addition of a top-three wide receiver in Odell Beckham Jr. led to high expectations.
Those expectations haven’t come anywhere close to being met. Yes, the Browns have played one of the toughest schedules in the league to this point. But good teams are supposed to be able to beat good teams. Cleveland clearly isn’t a good team. The Browns have struggled with penalties and turnovers all season.
Freddie Kitchens continues to make mind-boggling play calls and coaching decisions, and his timeout and challenge usage and time management has been atrocious. Because of his quick ascendance to the position, Kitchens was always going to have a steep learning curve. Mistakes under pressure were to be expected. But things should be improving by now, and they aren’t. A process without progress is not worth enduring.
If the penalties were gradually decreasing, the decisions were improving, and the offense was playing more efficiently, things would be different. A young team with a young first-time head coach should make mistakes. But they should also learn from them and get better. That’s not happening. And it’s why Kitchens will not be Cleveland’s head coach in 2020.
So since Kitchens won’t be returning, it would be better to just fire him now, right? It would send a message to the team and the rest of the staff that losing with all of this talent is simply unacceptable. It would also tell general manager John Dorsey that his seat is getting warm, and he has one chance to find the right coach. It could also lead to more wins down the stretch, as well as generating positive momentum and confidence for the players heading into the offseason.
Those may be valid arguments, but really, what’s the point of firing him now? The season is over. Sure, the Browns could possibly run the table and finish 10-6. That might be good enough to get them into the wild card round of the playoffs. But a turnaround like that is all but impossible, even with the competition the team will face over their final eight. Cleveland currently holds the seventh overall pick for next year’s draft; about 20 spots above where they hoped to be at this point.
Hue Jackson was fired at the midseason point last year because his team wasn’t showing improvement, and also because he was statistically the worst head coach in NFL history. The only reason he wasn’t fired after going 0-16 was optics; owner Jimmy Haslam already had a reputation for having a quick trigger finger, and wanted to prove to potential future coaching candidates that he was willing to give his coach time.
The same concept applies here; they’ve been quite awful, but Kitchens has gotten only eight games. Is he so bad of a coach that canning him will immediately result in a completely different on-field product? Unlikely. None of the possible interim options on the staff have (or should have) a chance at becoming the head coach next year, and most, if not all will not even be with the team in three months.
It won’t be enjoyable, but the Browns need to just let things play out this season. Not because the team is sure to improve, or because Freddie Kitchens still has a chance to prove himself, but to show candidates that they’ll get a proper opportunity to implement their methods, schemes, and culture without worrying about their job security after a few losses. It’s time for Cleveland to look forward to next year, as if they haven’t done that enough over the past two decades.