Freddie Kitchens has gone from a little-known assistant coach to the man tasked with guiding a promising franchise out of the darkness.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen is reporting that the Cleveland Browns are poised to name Kitchens as their next head coach.
Kitchens, 44, was elevated from the running backs coach and associate head coach to offensive coordinator following the dismissal of Hue Jackson as head coach and Todd Haley as offensive coordinator in Week 9.
That spurred the Browns' late-season surge after a 2-6-1 start to finish at 7-8-1 with Kitchens mentoring rookie QB Baker Mayfield and interim head coach Gregg Williams guiding the entire ship. Mayfield clearly elevated his game with Kitchens calling plays, with an 19-8 TD-INT ratio after the coaching changes versus an 8-8 ratio before the changes occurred.
But Kitchens got the job over Williams, who also interviewed for the vacancy. Williams has been let go, per ESPN, and will not be staying with the franchise going forward.
That's fascinating because the 44-year-old Kitchens seems to fit the new mold of NFL head coach — an offensive background, little to no head-coaching experience and young. You can credit Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan, Matt Nagy and others for kick-starting that movement, and it's evident in two other hires this week with Matt LaFleur (Packers) and Kliff Kingsbury (Cardinals).
It's still something of a miracle that the Browns' fate lies in the hands of Kitchens, a man who nearly died in 2013. Then a member of the Arizona Cardinals' staff, where he was a close confidant of former Cardinals head coach (and current Bucs coach) Bruce Arians, Kitchens experienced blurred vision and lightheadedness during an OTA session before being taken to a local hospital.
It turns out he had suffered an ascending aortic dissection — a potentially fatal diagnosis — and was only given a 20 percent chance to survive. But not only did he make it through a 10-hour surgery and the recovery to follow, Kitchens also was back at training camp to resume coaching two months later.
Kitchens was a former Alabama quarterback (nicknamed "Thick" for his stocky build) who later coached in college football from 1999 to 2005 before landing a job with the Cowboys as a tight ends coach in 2006. He then spent the next six years in the same position with the Cardinals before being elevated to QB coach there under Arians. Kitchens spent one year with the Browns in 2018.
But now he's the man tasked with getting the best out of Mayfield, who has gone to great lengths to praise him, and turning around a franchise with two winning seasons and one postseason appearance since the team returned to Cleveland in 1999.
It's a tall order, and many men — 10 to be exact, counting interim coaches — have tried and failed in that role since then. But there could be something special brewing with the underdog coach leading the fearless quarterback and a talented roster into what should be their most anticipated season in more than a decade.