Opinion: Head Coaching Change Still Possible

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I could have gone for the cheap puns for headlines:

  • “Close the Kitchens”
  • “Nothing Cooking in the Kitchens”
  • “The Kitchens is Condemned”

…but I didn’t. You are welcome.

Instead, in a very serious manner, I am still going to suggest outright firing Browns Head Coach Freddie Kitchens within the next two weeks should be a possibility. The Kitchens experiment is over. It is time to move on and install Steve Wilks as interim until the team finds someone capable of the task, possibly even Wilks himself, who inexplicably was removed from the Arizona Cardinal’s job despite having almost no offensive weapons and a top ten defense. After all, isn’t that part of the reason to hire an experienced coach underneath a non-experienced one, in case of emergency?

I hate being a fear-monger, but this is about as close to an emergency as last year with Hue “The Clown” Jackson…and he was fired BEFORE the Bye Week last year.

I understand the differences. Jackson is an arrogant buffoon whose mouth writes checks his coaching ability can’t cash. He brags on being a “players coach”and an offensive guru, but, in hindsight, his only coaching superpower was luck. He had lightning in a bottle in Oakland. Jackson revealed his true nature as a head coach by doing nothing with relatively the same talent as he did when he was the offensive coordinator of the Raiders two years prior. The fact that he was able to con his way into Berea still chafes the organization to this day.

Kitchens is humble, hard-working, and says the right things. He is the opposite of a con-man. However, he is similar to Jackson in this regard: they are brilliant as offensive coordinators but inept as head coaches.

When solely tasked with planning an executing the offense, Kitchens dazzled. He only had one priority, and he handled it with aplomb. When he was hired officially, many of his peers and friends actually praised the General Manager John Dorsey for the hire. Some even suggested he has been ready to be a head coach somewhere for a long time, and Cleveland is the perfect fit for him.

(For what it is worth, I am aware that a former Browns coach who was a brilliant coordinator took the Browns to a winning record and is in serious consideration for getting the Lombardi Trophy renamed for him. Kitchens is, in no way, close to Bill Belichick right now.)

Bye Weeks are perfect times to make a head coaching change when necessary. They are built-in excuses to re-evaulate the progress of the team. Ripping the band-aid off of an under performing team to send a message that incompetence will not be tolerated is usually a good idea, and I would normally have advocated for Kitchens to have been fired last week, if not for one minor detail…

…ridiculously enough, the Browns are still in this thing.

At 2-4, the Browns are coming off this Bye Week to face the leviathan known as the New England Patriots. The Pats are 7-0 and have been outscoring the competition by an average of four touchdowns per game. Although the Browns have had two weeks to prepare and heal up (as of this writing, starting cornerbacks Greedy Williams and Denzel Ward will be medically cleared to practice and play), there is little evidence that this benefits any team playing the Pats of this era. Even before this season, many fans and commentators have already chalked this game up as a long. To expect a different outcome with the state of the current Browns is unrealistic.

Given this loss, the Browns benefit from the same thing the Pats do: having a soft schedule. The only uncertainly winnable game left on the schedule is against Buffalo. The Bills defense is playing very well. The Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins are dumpster fires currently, and the Arizona Cardinals are playing well as of late, but who knows if they will last the rest of the season. With the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback woes, and a quality road win logged against the Baltimore Ravens, the Browns –be still my beating heart– can go 6-0 and the division. Even if the Browns lose to the Bills and Cardinals, a (rather weak) 9-7 with an outright division championship and a first round playoff game is still on par with the pre-season expectation.

Firing Kitchens right before a near impossible game to win won’t solve or mean anything. It is almost a built in excuse to extend Kitchens’s rope. Even losing to the Bills might be rationalized as an acceptable loss if the Browns play well. At the point where a Steelers team is a shell of itself during another prime time game, and the Browns lose to a third string quarterback and a defense that is mediocre at best, John Dorsey will have no choice but to relieve Kitchens of his duties.

Kitchens has shown no proclivity for time management or in-game adjustments. He has no feel for the game, evidenced two weeks ago at home against Seattle. While not stubborn, he seems at least resistant to using the talent given while engaging in trickery. Most of these procedure penalties stem from silly discipline issues like two players in motion or the blocker being uncovered. Since the offensive line is suspect enough for multiple rumors flying about the Browns trying to acquire Trent Williams from the Washington Redskins or Nate Solder from the New York Giants, it is plausible to say the line is not that great and the cause for much of the problems on offense. Most offensive linemen will tell you their source of pride in their jobs comes mostly from their ability to spring their running back free. The Browns have arguably one of the best backs in the league in Nick Chubb, yet he is rarely utilized as a runner in this pass-happy offense. For every 100+ yard game, he has also had some below 100 yards as well. Yes, he is currently second in rushing yards in the league, but he could have more even if Kitchens would have made better playcalls.

If Kitchens were making any weekly improvements, or if the team were in games after the half, my attitude toward him would be different. Kitchens, to his credit, is owning his mistakes and frustration with his own job performance. While I appreciate this, I don’t have time for excuses or apologies. Did I buy my tickets for the Superbowl? No. Have I planned for vacation time in February? Not yet. But I did expect the Browns to be, at worst, 3-3 going into the bye. Given the schedule, that was not unrealistic.

Kitchens was a two week grace period. Yes, it is challenging to win seven straight games, but not unheard of. If these Browns are unable to beat the hated Steelers, though, it will and should be another sad example of an over-hyped coordinator over his head in the head coaching position –lather, rinse, repeat.

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