The Cleveland Browns fired head coach Freddie Kitchens yesterday, after the Browns dropped a game to the woeful Cincinnati Bengals and finished the year with a 6-10 record. It was another dismal showing for the Browns and capped off a farcical year — a year which began, amazingly, with at least one pundit picking the Browns to go to the Super Bowl. Instead, they chalked up another losing season.
Kitchens had to go, really. He was picked to be head coach because he was supposed to be some kind of offensive mastermind who would be able to fit together all of the offensive talent on the roster into a point-scoring powerhouse — but the Browns ended up decidedly mediocre on the offensive side of the ball, finishing 22nd in the NFL in points and yards per game. The red zone offense was terrible, the team’s performance was wracked with crucial penalties and turnovers, and Kitchens’ game management decisions were consistently wrong-headed, causing the Browns to give away games they could easily have won. Add in a total lack of discipline on the team — highlighted by an embarrassing brawl against the Pittsburgh Steelers that cost the team its best defensive lineman — and you’ve got a simple story of a rumpled guy who was overwhelmed by a job that clearly was far beyond his capabilities.
The best argument for keeping Kitchens is that the Browns coaching carousel has to stop if the team is ever going to succeed, so . . . why not keep Kitchens and see if he can learn on the job? It’s not much of an argument for a coach, but it has a kernel of reality to it. Since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999 — only 20 years ago — they’ve had 11 head coaches, including Kitchens. There is no hope for long-term success if a team needs to constantly deal with new coaches and coaching staffs, learn new offensive and defensive schemes, and adjust to new playbooks and play-calling. From a continuity standpoint, the Browns are like a pee-wee football team compared to perennial contenders like the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
So, now the Browns look for another new savior to come in and turn a disastrous franchise around. Already people are speculating about the recently fired NFL head coaches, hot NFL assistant coaches, and college head coaches who might be candidates — including former Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer. Since 1999, the Browns have tried hiring head coaches from each of those categories, and they’ve all been canned after short periods. Maybe this time the Browns will make the right decision and find a coach who can meld the team into a disciplined unit that plays smart, tough football and can figure out how to win big games. I’m confident Urban Meyer, who has a clear coaching philosophy and proven track record in many different programs, could do that — but would he want to coach for a franchise that has been so dysfunctional?
Given the Browns’ track record, good things probably aren’t going to happen — but if you’re a Browns fan, hope springs eternal. In fact, hope is just about all the Browns Backers have.