Turned out, he would not.
Shortly after the team landed from Cincinnati, owner Jimmy Haslam and general manager John Dorsey met with Kitchens at the team’s practice facility to fire him following one season in which Cleveland finished 6-10.
Owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam announced the move in a statement, while the meeting with Kitchens was still ongoing, according to a team source.
“We thank Freddie for his hard work and commitment to this organization but did not see the success or opportunities for improvement to move forward with him as our head coach,” the Haslams said. “Our focus is on hiring an exceptional leader for this football team and we will take a comprehensive approach to this process. We are excited about the core players we have to build around and develop and we look forward to bringing in a strong head coach that will put this group of players in the best position to succeed.”
The Haslams have now gone through six head coaches, including interims, since buying the team in 2012. Cleveland will be hiring its 12th head coach since returning to the NFL in 1999.
After another listless performance in Sunday’s 33-23 loss to the then-1-14 Bengals, yet another coaching move in Cleveland felt unavoidable — even as Kitchens pushed back on any inevitability.
“We’ve got meetings scheduled through next week, and I’m looking forward to going to work tomorrow,” Kitchens said. “They have not given me any indication of anything else. Mr. Jimmy and Dee, I think they want me to do my job, and that’s what I’m gonna do — until they tell me not to, if they tell me not to.”
The Haslams had seen enough, as Kitchens’ brief tenure was enveloped by discipline issues and distractions.
The Browns ranked in the top five in penalties and penalty yardage all season.
Then on Nov. 14, in the closing seconds of a victory over Pittsburgh, star defensive end Myles Garrett ripped the helmet off Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and slugged him in the head with it. The incident left Garrett suspended indefinitely, and the ensuing melee led the NFL to fine both the Browns and Steelers $250,000 apiece.
Before the Dec. 1 rematch, Kitchens was photographed at the movies wearing a “Pittsburgh started it” T-shirt, a reference to the brawl. After the Steelers won the game 20-13, which severely damaged Cleveland’s playoff chances, several Pittsburgh players criticized Kitchens for wearing the shirt.
Kitchens, who originally came to Cleveland last year as a running backs coach, took over as offensive coordinator midway through last season after head coach Hue Jackson was fired. With Kitchens calling plays, Mayfield thrived and went on to break the NFL rookie record with 27 passing touchdowns.
The offensive surge in the second half, propelling the Browns to a 7-8-1 finish, prompted Dorsey to make Kitchens his first head-coaching hire, even though Kitchens had never been a head coach before at any level. Though the Browns hadn’t won their division in 30 years, expectations for Cleveland ballooned even higher when Dorsey traded for All-Pro wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. from the New York Giants in the spring.
But with Kitchens still calling plays, the offense never found a groove. Mayfield threw 21 interceptions, the offensive line struggled to protect for him and star wideouts Beckham and Jarvis Landry battled nagging hip injuries.
Cleveland ranked just 22nd in offensive efficiency and scored more than 30 points only twice all season. Meanwhile, without Garrett, the Browns defense crumbled down the stretch, surrendering at least 30 points in its final three games.
After the loss to the Bengals, even Kitchens admitted this season failed to meet expectations
“Six and 10 is not even remotely good enough,” he said. “We’re not running an operation here to try to be six and 10.”
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