After failing miserably in the Season of Great Expectations, he became the second head coach in the new Browns’ era to to be one-and-done, the Browns announced Sunday night.
He was fired by the team after returning home from Sunday’s 33-23 loss to the Bengals with a 6-10 record, joining Rob Chudzinski as the second coach in the past seven seasons to bow out after only one season.
“I would like to thank Freddie for his dedication and efforts this past season,'' said Browns GM John Dorsey, who made Kitchens his first hire. "We’re disappointed in our results and feel a change is necessary. Freddie is a good man and good football coach. We wish he and his family nothing but success.”
Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam will conducting their fifth head coaching search since they took over the team in 2012.
“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,'' they said in a joint statement. "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.”
Rarely has a head coach in the NFL done so little with so much talent, and the Browns had no choice but to cut their losses after an abysmal performance in what was supposed to be a playoff season.
His tenure was characterized by a lack of discipline on the part of his players, a woeful passing game, horrible playcalling and an ugly brawl between Myles Garrett and Pittsburgh’s Mason Rudolph that cost the Browns their best defensive player of the final six games of the season.
Kitchens, 45, became the sixth head coach fired by the Browns since the end of 2010, and the fifth since the Haslams took over the team in 2012.
The Browns running backs coach and associate head for the first eight games of last season, Kitchens was in over his head from the start. He was promoted to interim offensive coordinator after Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were fired midseason, and was supported heavily by his veteran offensive staff.
In those final eight games of last season, the Browns averaged 395 yards per game and a league-best 6.86 yards per play. They also scored on their first 12 trips inside the red zone, and surrendered a league-low five sacks in that span. The Browns scored 25 touchdowns in those eight games, tied for sixth in the NFL.
What’s more, Baker Mayfield completed 68 of his attempts for 2,254 yards with 19 touchdowns and only eight interceptions, posting a 106.2 rating.
But Fun Freddie disappeared not long after taking over as head coach, and problems appeared from the start.
Mayfield alluded several times to the fact the Browns didn’t have their offensive act together for OTAs in May.
“When it’s OTAs, the voluntary minicamps and stuff like that, it needs to be driven towards stuff that’s actually going to help us in the year,’’ Mayfield said last week. “You don’t need to waste reps and you don’t need to waste your time when we’re here in the spring. That time is valuable to nail down what we’re going to do offensively to where when we come back for training camp, you hit it running.’’
Kitchens also gave Odell Beckham Jr. all the time he needed in the spring to wrap his brain around the trade from New York instead of strongly urging him to attend. Beckham’s absence and his lack of chemistry with Mayfield hurt the Browns all season.
During joint practices agains the Colts in August, the Browns lost their composure and fought at least five times on the second day. But the Kitchens applauded his players for imposing their will instead of punishing them for senseless and potentially costly scrapes.
The Kitchens’ era began with a 43-13 blowout by the Titans, a game in which the Browns committed 18 penalties and players such as Myles Garrett and Greg Robinson lost their cool, with Robinson getting ejected from the game.
By the end of the first half of the season, the Browns were 2-6 and the Season of Great Expectations was effectively over. No team since realignment in 2002 has started 2-6 and make the playoffs. Going back even further before the 16-game slate, no team that started 2-6 or worse has made the postseason since the Bengals did in 1970.
Two weeks later, Garrett lost his temper at the end of a Thursday night victory over the Steelers, clobbering Rudolph over the head with the QB’s helmet. Garrett was suspended indefinitely, and the defense never recovered.
Before the Steelers game two weeks later, Kitchens wore a “Pittsburgh Started It’’ t-shirt out to a movie — after warning his team to remain focused on the rematch and not the fight. After they lost that crucial game in Pittsburgh, he stood at the podium and said he’d wear the shirt all over again.
The Browns still had two more chances to win games and keep their playoff hopes alive and lost both of them — in Arizona and at home to the Ravens.
“We never quite showed up to those [three] and it’s one of those things where is it two or three plays in a game or is it the game plan or is it something else?’’ said left guard Joel Bitonio. “ It’s something we need to look at as an organization, like what’s the root cause of these issues? There has to be something where you can’t be just like, ‘alright we’re going to go into next year and do the same thing because it obviously didn’t work. Like, are we just going to play better? So there’s something that needs to be said…We have to make changes of some sort.’’
None of the players came out in strong support of Kitchens, including Bitonio and Mayfield.
“Whatever they want to do I’m for it as long as we’re moving in the right direction,’’ said Bitonio.
“It’s not my decision,’’ said Mayfield. “Whatever happens, happens.’’
Kitchens’ reign was also characterized by not being able to get the ball to Beckham in the red zone or the end zone, and him finishing the season with one three touchdown catches.
Mayfield regressed on Kitchens’ watch, finishing at or near the bottom of the NFL in most key statistical categories.
Players such as Jarvis Landry had no qualms about yelling at Kitchens on the sidelines during games, a sign that he didn’t have their respect.
He lost to inexperienced quarterbacks such as Denver’s Brandon Allen and Pittsburgh’s Duck Hodges, and his team led the league in penalties most of the season.
The offense, dysfunctional from the start, struggled to get lined up properly for plays, putting Mayfield behind the eight-ball much of the time.
Still, he refused to give offensive coordinator Todd Monken a chance to call plays, despite the fact he ran the No. 1 pass offense in the NFL last season.
The end of the first half of last week’s 31-15 loss to the Ravens last week was an embarrassment, with Kitchens botching the play calling and allowing Baltimore to score 14 points in the final 1:18.
It was one of the final straws in the Browns’ decision to start over yet again.